For a long time, drinking whisky was a simple affair. You picked from either blended or single malt whiskies, depending on your flavour profile, love for peat, and the health of your wallet. Sometimes, a cigar would roll on to your lips as you sat back to enjoy your preferred tipple.

With lockdowns around the world thanks to Covid-19 and other factors coming Whisky Goes Pop together at the right time, whisky makers have now turned up with offerings that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. From Glenmorangie’s A Tale Of Cake with flavour notes of cake and Amrut Naarangi with its strong orange-y taste, tasting whisky today is different from what you would have imagined it to be.

Shehan Minocher, brand ambassador of Glenmorangie says, “Indian consumers are beginning to become highly educated about Scotch, and are now hunting out new and exciting whiskies to savour. With travel restricted for the foreseeable future, more consumers are going to be looking locally for that special bottle you can show off to your friends at your home bar.”

This has led to a rise of cask-finished whiskies that seek to impart distinct flavour notes into whiskies, making them stand out from others. Some, like A Tale Of Cake, are sold as limited edition bottles, with units flying off shelves most of the time.

Nikhil Agarwal, who runs Edinburgh Whisky Academy and is the CEO of All Things Nice, says such whiskies are a clever use of barrels to create non- traditional flavours. He gives the example of Teeling Single Malt Whiskey from Ireland that is matured and finished in five wine casks that include sherry, port, Madeira, white burgundy, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and delivers extraordinary flavours, adding that it’s also been voted as the best single malt in the world.

Advocacy manager for Monika Enterprises Dushyant Tanwar adds that finishing is not the same as aging, and brands sometimes want to add certain characteristics and flavour profiles to their whiskies to make them different.

Tanwar cites the example of whiskies like Brenne Single Malt from France, the world’s first single malt aged in both French Limousin Oak barrels and Cognac casks, and Bushmills 16 Year Old that is aged in ex sherry, ex bourbon, and finished in port casks.

“Because Brenne Single Malt is finished in cognac cask, the flavour profile is quite unique, with hints of bubblegum and floral and fruity notes that you don’t usually associate with whiskies. Bushmills 16 YO gets a lot of colour from Portugal’s Douro Valley port cask finish along with hints of raisins that the whisky attains,” Tanwar explains.

As for the Indian market, Minocher says, “While cask finishing and interesting flavour profiles have been around for a century now, I think recently, brands have seen that Indian consumers are looking for new and exciting products, not just the run-of-the-mill single malts that we’ve had in the market for years. The lockdown has definitely accelerated the growth.”

Indian whisky brands such as Amrut Distilleries are trying their hands at launching experimental whiskies too. “Trends like these are important to keep the industry vibrant. It also brings in more people into the category who are curious and excited to try them out,” Nikhil Varma, brand ambassador of Amrut Distilleries, adds. Speaking about Amrut Naarangi, Varma says that the idea was to add orange peels in the sherry cask to create the limited-edition whisky.

“We are following the traditional process of making whisky and adding another layer to it to make this whisky. This is a whisky for anyone who wants to enjoy single malt with a new flavour and a fruit-forward flavour. Amrut Naarangi has a fruit cake note that’s very dessert-like, making it perfect as a great digestif as well as a brilliant aperitif,” he says.

Part of the reason why these experimental whiskies are rare or come in limited editions is because they require elaborate processes and are expensive to produce with no guaranteed result of getting the perfect taste profile.

“A Naarangi-like experiment hasn’t been done so far and it’s also not very common. The innovation comes in when the casks soak the flavours you’re trying to impart to the whisky while part of the process is not knowing whether the experimentation will work until after its done. At the end of the day, the consumer wants to enjoy the whisky and if brands are filling a gap flavour-wise, then that’s a great sign,” Varma says.

With a superb response to A Tale Of Cake, Glenmorangie was quick to launch their next unique offering called X By Glenmorangie, a whisky that is made for mixing rather than having on the rocks. “The launch of Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake and X by Glenmorangie in India is an effort to bring vibrancy and innovation to what is a very traditional category in India — Single Malt Scotch Whisky. X by Glenmorangie is a unique whisky proposition as it’s been designed exclusively to be mixed. We aim to recruit new consumers while also giving bartenders a great product to make amazing cocktails with,” Minocher says.

Tanwar advocates for more awareness in this growing category. “People need to be more aware of what they’re drinking. Special cask finishes highlight the uniqueness of the brand and can take whisky-drinking experience to the next level, but also beware of certain brands that might pass off whisky liqueurs as experimentative whiskies,” he says.

Minocher is enthused by the response to A Tale Of Cake and X By Glenmorangie, and says that another limited-edition whisky on the lines of the former will release by end of the year. Varma also says that looking at the demand, a new batch of Amrut Naarangi might be in the works.

Clearly, the taste palate of the world’s largest whisky-drinking population is about to undergo a significant shift. It’s time to join in and enjoy the ride over some flavourful drams in the times to come.

5 OTHER MUST-TRY CASK-FINISHED WHISKIES

  1. Glenfiddich IPA Cask Experimental Series
  2. Templeton Rye Maple Cask Finish
  3. Templeton Rye Caribbean Rum Cask Finish
  4. Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Mezcal Cask Finish
  5. Dewar’s Portuguese Smooth Port Cask Finish