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Last Updated: Friday, 12 December, 2003, 12:15 GMT
Indian malt tickles tastebuds
By Huw Williams
For BBC News Online Scotland

Amrut whisky
The drink is said to be "caressed by the Himalayan air and water"
If you've ever drunk Scotch whisky, you'll know all the rhetoric about Scotland's pure waters, granite cliffs, peat bogs, "glens of tranquillity", and so on.

So, it comes as a bit of a shock to see a glossy flier advertising a single malt for the connoisseur that's been "caressed by the Himalayan air and water".

But that's exactly the sales pitch from the Amrut Distillery, based in southern India.

And they plan to sell their whisky in Scotland. Talk about coals to Newcastle. It's not so much Whisky Galore, more a case of Whisky Bangalore.

Just a few bottles of the stuff have arrived at the Pot Still, in Glasgow's city centre, where the owner Ken Storrie has held blind tastings for a few specially selected customers.

But working out where it's from has baffled them all.

He said: "There was one chap who instantly said it's not Scotch. He was a 100% convinced it was Irish. But none of them have been within a thousand miles."

From my own pub-based focus group reaction, overall, was positive.

'Smells of apples'

One said "it's far too strong, there's nothing subtle about it and it's far too sharp".

Another said "it's not one of the better whiskies I've tasted".

And a third said it was "perfectly drinkable", but he wouldn't expect to pay a lot for it.

They won some backing from whisky journalist, author, and lecturer, John Lamond.

After adding water he told me he could smell apples, and a hint of honey coming from the whisky.

indian whisky
Pot Still owner, Ken Storrie, who hopes to sell the whisky
As he slurped it through his teeth to get the full flavour, he said there was a definite taste of toffee, and real sweetness.

But, he added: "It has this bitterness which you don't find in Scotch whisky. It's much more akin to some of the Japanese whiskies."

Alastair Sinclair, the Indian distillery's agent in Scotland, says "we're being unfair", comparing this product with a well-established, Scottish single malt.

He said: "We must always remember, this is an Indian malt. That's the character and the style it is."

The Scotch Whisky Association says it's flattering that other countries want to imitate the drinks its members produce. But the association believes people will always want Scotch, which is the "original, and still the best".

Spokesman David Williamson said "Scotch whisky outsells its nearest rival whisky by over four times, world-wide". His industry is confident about the future, but not complacent, he said.

Back at the Pot Still, I told my focus group exactly what it was they'd been tasting.

They were amazed. And impressed.

Even the chap who'd said he wouldn't pay a premium price asked if he could taste some more - just to clarify what he really thought of it, you understand.

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