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High five

Fancy yourself as a true whisky connoisseur? These five rare whiskies are a must in your home bar, says Mahesh Mishra.

Mahesh Mishra | Print Edition: August 10, 2008

To a single malt enthusiast like me, few sights warm the heart more than the ubiquitous Black Label bottles making way for single malts in several social dos and hotel bars alike.

Having said that, few people seem to have gone beyond the regular stable of what I call “duty-free malts” in their collection. While a Glenlivet or a Lagavulin are excellent whiskies, they would not earn you brownies with a serious whisky collector. Here are a few malt whiskies (and a bourbon) that would.

Port Charlotte 5YO PC5
Port Charlotte 5YO PC5: The Bruichladdich distillery suffered closure, albeit for a very short while. After reopening in 2001, Port Charlotte 5YO was the first spirit to be distilled.

This whisky has been named to keep it distinct from the regular Bruichladdich bottlings and also to sustain the memory of a neighbouring distillery by the same name, which closed down in 1929. Port Charlotte is always bottled at cask strength (63 per cent) and would put most other Islay whiskies to shame on peatiness.

I recently acquired a PC5 Independent (Alchemist Bottling) and regret having opened it without stocking up on my second bottle. With only 6,000 bottles released, it’s increasingly hard to find it on the shelves.

In case you wish to procure any of these whiskies, my advice would be to try either The Whisky Exchange in London (on Unit 7 in Abbey Road and at Vinopolis near the London Bridge) or Park Avenue Liquor Shop on 292 Madison Avenue in New York. They are two of the best as far as whisky stores the world over are concerned.

Look up:
www.thewhiskyexchange.com or www.parkaveliquor.com

Ardbeg “Committee Bottlings”: Ardbeg, the mightiest of all Islay malts, reopened in 1997 after several years. In order to ensure the distillery never suffered the same fate again, nearly 20,000 Ardbeg enthusiasts constituted the “Ardbeg Committee”.

In 2003, the committee called upon the distillers to bottle whisky where the distillation process began after reopening, to verify if it passed muster.

This six-year-old whisky, called Ardbeg Very Young, has gone on to become a legend with collectors. The bottling, released at m30 (Rs 2,000), now retails for at least three times the price.

In 2005 and 2006, Ardbeg released two other special bottlings, Still Young and Almost There, both of which are certain to gain cult status in the years to come. I did catch a glimpse of one of the committee bottlings at Olive, Mumbai, and I suspect those folks don’t know the true worth of their stock.

Amrut
Amrut: Hold your horses. This is, indeed, an Indian single malt that is receiving rave reviews from whisky collectors the world over after having made its debut at the Victoria Whisky Festival in Canada.

Despite being bottled in Bangalore, the whisky is not sold in India. The whisky is bottled young (at five years) and while the youth and muscularity do come through, the mouthfeel is that of a 10-12-year-old speyside whisky.

Amrut now has two cask-strength releases, one of which is peated (at a whopping 62 per cent ABV). Hopefully, if Rick Jagdale, Amrut’s owner, is reading this, some of us will be saved the bother of requesting overseas friends to ship us quality Indian whisky.


George T. Stagg
George T. Stagg: This high quality bourbon is distributed by the Buffalo Trace distillery as part of their Antique Collection in memory of one of the co-founders of the distillery. Each release of the Antique Collection is selected from a small batch of 27 barrels, each enough for just about 300 cases.

Normally released only once a year in the fall, an exception was made in 2005 when a second spring release was added. A remarkably complex and intense bourbon, this whisky is bottled, straight from the barrel (“uncut” and “unfiltered”) at very high proof (140 or thereabouts) and is normally 15 years old.

Legally, bourbon cannot enter a barrel at greater than 125 proof. It is standard for this bourbon to be bottled at a proof higher than when it entered the barrel.

It is difficult to find this bourbon outside southern US, and given its very limited supply and a cult following among bourbon lovers, one would do well to stock up on as many bottles of this as one finds. 

Nikka
Nikka: The Nikka distillery is located in a small village in Hokkaido, an island which most Japanese whisky lovers liken to Scotland because of similarity in land area, population, weather and coastal characteristics. Given that sushi is one of the favoured whisky accompaniments of chefs the world over, it is, perhaps, no coincidence that Hokkaido also lays claim to some of the best sushis in Japan.

Nikka finds favour with whisky clubs the world over. This giant-killer shot to fame by winning the “Best of the Best” contest, a blind tasting held among various Scottish, Irish and Japanese whiskies some years ago.

While the 15YO is richer in mouthfeel, most tasters prefer the 10YO with its peatier flavours. In 1986, a particularly peaty expression was actually bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for release in Scotland.

Mahesh Mishra is a serious whisky enthusiast, who is also a banker

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