I have to make this super-quick, today, because I have a dozen things to do before things get REALLY busy, next week.
When you think of “Whiskey”, I’m betting that you would name, oh, maybe 150, maybe 200 different words associated with that idea before – if you ever even got there! – saying the words “Himalayas” or “India”. I have to admit that I would have been likely to get at least 80 to 100 terms in before that came to me and I was (dimly) aware that Whiskey IS made in India but the distilleries I knew – Fullerton, John, Gujchem, Pearl, and one or two others – and all in major cities. The idea that someone in Rampur(?), a small city in Uttar Pradesh, hard upon the foothills of the world’s tallest mountain range, was beyond my fertile imagination and, even when I got the PR email offering samples of Whiskies from the Radico Khaitan Distillery (formerly known as Rampur Distillery), the idea that they might actually be good was…well, a little farcical, frankly.
That twin set of assumptions survived as long as it took the box of two Rampur Whiskeys – Double Cask and the stunning Asava – to hit my front porch, for me to open it, extract the bottles, crack the seals, pour into Scotch tasting glasses, and trickle each one into my hyper-active, smart-ass piehole. After that…
…the distinct and unpleasant flavor of Crow.
My. GOD. These are SHOCKING Whiskeys. That is the only possible capsule description. This is like the first astronauts from another planet coming back and saying, “Hey, they make Whiskey on MARS! Ain’t that a HOOT? Taste this!!” I think I might have been more surprised at that but maybe not.
Rampur Double Cask Indian Single Malt Whiskey is, for all intents and assumptions and aesthetic parameters, straight-up Scotch – and a damned fine Scotch, at that. It is not chill-filtered, so even though the liquid in the bottle is as visually clear as one of the chill-filtered, lower proof, large producer bottles like Jim Beam or Jack Daniel, I could find TINY bits of Something – wood, grain, yeast, whatever – in the bottom of both bottles but I could really not care less. You will NOT detect it in your mouth and it isn’t, in any way, bad for you, so don’t worry about it. While I don’t really subscribe to that line of thinking that says that brutally filtered Whiskeys or wines or beers lose major parts of their flavor profiles, I do think that monkeying with almost anything too much is a bad idea. And Double Cask shows both its American Bourbon casks and Spanish Sherry casks with crystalline clarity. The Usual Suspects in its flavor profile are all there and all emphatic: caramel, oak, toasted grain, subtle fruit tending toward honeydew melon and white grapes, a touch of minerals…every bit as complex and interesting as a top-tier Scotch.
That said, this is NOT a Scotch. There is a faint but firm impression of Something Else, maybe from the Himalayan snow-melt water, maybe just from the Indian-grown grains used. Whatever it is, this is as distinctive and stylistically apart as any of the Japanese Whiskeys, which I could identify in my sleep. If this is the first marketplace-visible, available, Indian Whiskey brand…look out. 97 Points
The Rampur Asava Indian Single Malt Whiskey is a whole other animal. I knew precious little about the Indian distillery culture and maybe only a hair more about Indian wineries. I’ve sampled wines from very few existing wineries – mainly Sula, Fratelli, Chateau d’Ori, and Charosa – but have to admit that, well, they’re a work in progress. As with Italy and Spain and most wine countries, I have no doubt that India’s best wines are consumed at home and never make it here but somebody, somewhere in that sprawling, teeming sea of humanity and golden, sun-drenched scenery made a Cabernet that was inky and dense and assertive enough that Rampur’s single-malt, having snoozed in a cask or twelve formerly devoted to that Cab, shows a jaw-dropping wallop of dark-fruit Cabernet notes, wet wood, currants, plums, graphite, rose oil, apricot jam, and honey, with a lurking caramel-treacle intimation of sweetness that is instantly and urgently, well, sensual. This is a flat-damned sexy Whiskey. It is immediately and fiercely seductive in the glass, on the tongue, in the memory. The aroma carries a faint but definite hint of what is bearing down on your tongue and the first sip delivers with authority. It is not, despite that description, a heavy, syrupy Whiskey. Its intensity suggests density but remaining aware of what’s on the tongue for the whole tasting process proves out that Asava is on the lighter end of the texture spectrum and its ready drinkability makes this a powerfully user-friendly Whiskey, as appealing to relative newbies as to seasoned Whiskey Wonks. I read one online description that compared the entire line of Rampur Whiskeys to Japanese Whiskeys, but cannot hang with that attempt to toss them all into one convenient tote bag. Double Cask and Avasa, at least, are as individual as snowflakes, having only their relative weight on the tongue in common.
But, to put it into the always-required relative terms and bow to our common desire to know, in all cases, Which One Is Better, I have to fall onto the Asava side of the argument. Double Cask is as rock solid a Whiskey, categories aside, as you’ll taste all year. Avasa is that aforementioned Something Else. 99 Points
These are NOT cheap. Total Wine has ’em – not everywhere – and both are going for right around $100. Skinflint old crank that I am, the Whiskey that gets me to slap the moths out of my wallet and pony up a C-Note had better be as blindingly brilliant as anything I’ve tasted in ten years. I lay that out for Balvenie Caribbean Cask and Laphroaig Lore and, so far anyway, that’s the list. Asava MIGHT get added to that. Double Cask, well, I’d probably hope to find it on sale for a paltry $80-ish.
These are NOT typical Whiskeys and you would PROBABLY miss them if not tipped off. Consider yourself Tipped. I have not tasted the rest of the line – Select, Sherry Finish PX, and Signature Reserve – and probably won’t, as I NEVER request samples and certainly feel that Rampur’s American folks have burnt up enough of their sampling budget on my obscure ass, but I think we can safely assume that, based on these two, Rampur’s line is going to hit a quality standard that makes them Must Try Whiskey for any devoted and intrepid Whiskey fan.