Amrut. Paul John. Rampur.
For a rum lover like this writer, these names seemed odd. But for scotch lovers, these names mark India’s welcome foray into the world of single malts, which has for long been the domain of Scots. While we love our liquor as much as the next person, not many who enter this world do so for the love of knowledge. Trying to change this perception is a Bengaluru-based club, which welcomes whisky aficionados with open arms (and glasses).
Single Malt Amateur Club - The Journey
Long before single malt broke out on the Indian scene, there were ardent lovers of scotch brewing their own worlds in different corners of the country. Hemanth Rao, a Bangalore-based IT professional had a keen interest in the rich history of whisky, which led him on adventures ranging from the distilleries in Scotland and Ireland to Goan shacks. With a dream to share his curiosity and knowledge, he founded Single Malt Amateur Club (SMAC) in 2011 as a platform for amateurs, professionals, and connoisseurs to share experiences and information on single malt whisky. SMAC believes whisky is for everyone and the ‘Amateur’ tag was added to empower members to shed their inhibitions and speak.
“Over the past decade, the most important change in the world of Whisky is how it is no longer perceived as an ‘old man’s drink’. New-age whisky drinkers, both young men and women, have started to enjoy whisky, and are equally interested in its history, blend and much more,” says Hemanth. To cater to a growing demand for information and experience, SMAC curates whisky tours, tasting sessions, and master classes. It has the distinction of being the only whisky club in India that has its own bottling from some of the most reputed distilleries like Amrut and Paul John. True to its inclusive spirit, SMAC offers free membership to whisky lovers across the world.
The Growing Love for Whisky
With over 4000 members (and still growing), SMAC has seen the world of Whisky in India change with time. With increased travel, wider palate profiles and an innate desire to experience alcohol beyond the mixers of coke and soda has led to youngsters turning to a finer way of drinking.
“Experiences have also taken precedence, and consumers are now seeking elements such as glassware, food pairing, knowledge, etc. And interestingly, even though metros continue to dominate the demographics, an increased interest from tier II cities has been observed over the last few years,” explains Hemanth, who has been consistently working towards a more inclusive whisky culture – with a goal to make single malt whisky experiences accessible and affordable for all.
The Indian Way Forward
The last two decades have seen India’s homegrown brands make their mark. Indian single malt whiskies are known for their fruity, malty character. As with all single malt whisky, Indian single malt must be matured for a minimum of three years and a day in oak casks, and it is the product of a single distillery, distilled from nothing other than water, yeast and malted barley.
But do they stand the test of the international market? SMAC believes so. “Being recognised by multiple reputed forums and critiques for the whiskies they produce is not something that has happened by chance - this has been achieved by multiple experiments and evolution over the last 20 years. Whiskies produced by some of these distilleries are on par with international standards and have sometimes scored higher than Scottish counterparts in blind tastings. Through SMAC, we wish to take people on a journey along the changing landscape of Single Malts,” Rao opines.