Amrut, Hindi for ‘nectar’, ‘ambrosia’ or ‘honeydew’, is an apt name for this Southern Indian distillery, which for the past 70 years has distilled what have come to be globally acclaimed premium spirits. It is particularly well known for its premium and single malt whiskies, which have achieved worldwide recognition and success. We spoke with Rakshit Jagdale, Executive Director of Amrut Distilleries and grandson of its founder, Shri J.N. Radhakrishna Jagdale.
Amrut Distilleries’ history goes back to the start of India’s independence. It was founded in 1948, a year after India obtained its freedom from the UK. It was a period of great celebration and possibility for India, but also a time of difficulty and upheaval. During such a time, founding a business was challenging, but state governments were keen to encourage investment in industries that could grow with the new India. In the state of Karnataka, in South India, one industry that was encouraged was the liquor business. Within this climate, Shri J.N. Radhakrishna founded what was then known as Amrut Laboratories, and 72 years later, this company is a globally respected name in single malt whiskies, and many other beverages besides.
“Amrut’s single malt whisky is 100% Indian,” explained Rakshit, Executive Director of Amrut and the third generation of the Jagdale family to be involved in the company. “We’re very proud of that. From barley until it’s bottled, it’s in India.”
There are certain countries that are commonly associated with good whisky. For example, Scotland and Ireland might come to mind, or perhaps the southern states of the USA. India and whisky don’t seem like a go-to combination; we asked Rakshit whether the company has ever run into this sort of assumption whilst taking its product to the global market: “To begin with, in certain countries that we’ve entered, there was a pre-conceived notion that our whisky would not be as good as a Scottish or Irish single malt. It’s been nearly 15 years since we began marketing this product, and we have been able to overcome that.” Once people began to try Amrut’s single malts, their quality spoke for themselves. “At times, it has been difficult, but over time, people have tasted the product and realised that it is exceptionally good quality whisky.”
Amrut spread awareness of its products through participation in numerous trade fairs and tastings, and the word quickly spread. So, what sets Amrut’s single malts apart? On top of a carefully executed and high-quality production process, the company produces whiskies with a distinctively Indian flavour: “From a taste perspective, I would say our single malt whisky is more on the butterscotch, nutty, chocolatey side. It’s got more of an oak, vanilla, and the flavourable tannins that come through during maturation. It is not floral: it’s mainly on the creamy, chocolatey side.”
This pallet sets Amrut’s offerings apart from many other premium-level whiskies, and whilst it might not sound as traditional as a heavily peaty Laphroaig, it’s delicious, and has gained the reputation and prestige of the top tier of single malts. In fact, in 2010, one of the company’s whiskies – Amrut Fusion – received a 97/100 rating from renowned whisky writer Jim Murray. After trying 4000 different whiskies in this process, Murray named Amrut Fusion the third best single malt in the world. This is just one of many accolades that the company has received.
According to Rakshit, the spirits market in India has shifted in recent years, with a clear increase in favour for premium products. “What we have witnessed over the past two years is that people are aspiring to drink more quality than quantity. What we’ve seen is the premiumisation of the spirits business in India, where most of our premium products, including our single malts, are acquiring double digit growths. The overall growth of the spirits business in India, however, was only about 1.5% – 2% this year.” We asked Rakshit what he thought was motivating this shift that’s seeing premium products take such a rise in comparison to spirits at large:
“I think the affordable incomes have increased. Health and responsible drinking is another reason. It also has to do with prestige and image; if I have a couple of friends over, I should have at least a bottle of single malt whisky on my bar for me to serve.” Younger consumers, Rakshit also shared, are aspiring to drink these premium whiskies, presumably all part of the focus on prestige that more affordable incomes have produced. With this shift taking place, Amrut is of course faring better than ever. That said, the company doesn’t just deal in premium beverages. It produces a full spectrum, from economy range right through to its most high-end drinks, representing a total business of around 3,000 million rupees. In Indian alone, the company sells around 5 million cases of spirits per annum, and on top of this main market, it also exports to 44 countries around the world, accounting for around 10% of its total business.
A true mark of Amrut’s popularity is the AmrutFever fan club – a group set up by Amrut mega-fan Dennis Steckel of Sweden. “He started the club independently from us. It was his concept and idea. He’s such a huge Amruts fan: he’s an even bigger fan than we are!” Having partnered up with their fan club, Amruts now occasionally produces limited edition whisky just for its members, as well as sharing priority information with them about the availability and release of its different products. “We are very pleased to have such dedicated fans of Amrut globally,” Rakshit told us, and we aren’t surprised. To run a successful liquor or spirits business, the aim is to sell the idea of a lifestyle as well as a drink, and this level of enthusiasm and community certainly implies that Amrut has succeeded in doing this.
Whilst the focus of Amrut’s reputation is currently strongly on its whiskies, this is by no means the only beverage the distillery company produces. In the 1960s, the company branched into rums, in the ‘70s, brandy, and in the ‘80s, its journey with whisky began. This is set to expand: “Soon, we will be launching an Indian national gin. This will be a premium gin that will hit the market in Europe from June/July. We’re looking at premium vodka as well moving forwards.”
Amrut plans for its gin to utilise the many spices and floral notes unique to India, with a hint of a few ingredients that are being imported from the UK, such as juniper, liquorice root and angelica root. The overall flavour will be a fruity, citrusy and distinctly Indian. According to Rakshit: “It tastes different compared to a traditionally distilled gin.”
However, this development doesn’t mean that Amrut has slowed its growth of its whiskies. In 2018, the company’s 70th anniversary, it commissioned a new malt distillery, representing a total investment of around 700 million rupees from construction to details such as the purchase of casks for maturation. New whiskies are constantly being developed and produced, which can sometimes be a lengthy process due to the ageing. For example, in 2016, the company launched India’s oldest single malt to date – the ‘Greedy Angels 12 Years Old – Chairman’s Reserve’. This single malt was prepared in limited quantities and has received popular demand, so the company is looking to use its new distillery to facilitate more long-maturation whiskies in the future.
Amrut’s long history has seen it grow alongside an independent India and achieve a global renown that some doubted It could. Moving forwards, we wouldn’t be surprised if its new spirits are just as well received as the ones that have come before it, and if the premium spirits market continues to explode in India, we can’t wait to see what further developments that could mean for this inventive and dedicated company.