There aren't too many good things to come out of the coronavirus situation. But if we try to remain positive (which is probably the wrong word to use), one such advantage is that it has certainly levelled the whisky playing field for the smaller companies that don't have the same, hefty marketing budgets as the big players. With just an internet connection and Zoom, you can reach a global audience with very little outlay.
As a result, over the last nine months, whisky enthusiasts everywhere have been entertained and educated by whisky makers from lesser known brands all in the comfort of their own front rooms. Such was the case with the subject of this blog post: Rampur.
Whilst a lot of Indian whisky isn't actually whisky at all - it is produced by blending spirit made from molasses with grain whisky and/or blended Scotch whisky - there are now three key players in the Indian single malt category: Paul John, Amrut and Rampur.
The first time I tried Rampur was at the Whisky Fringe in 2018. I have to say that in all honesty it was one of the worst whiskies I had ever tasted. This was, however, at a whisky festival so there are always grounds for the argument that it's not possible to fully appreciate what you're tasting in such an environment. So I took a sample home and tried it again. And I still thought it was one of the worst whiskies I'd ever tried. It subsequently became a key component in the Blend of Doom.
Why did I dislike it so much? The only aroma I could pick out was a resinous pine note and I simply couldn't get past that.
So, when Rosie from MPR contacted me to invite me to the Zoom tasting of four Rampur expressions, I was thinking that either a) she hadn't heard of the Blend of Doom or b) she had heard of it but was confident that this tasting could change my mind.
The four single malts were introduced by Anup Barik, Rampur's master distiller, who also gave us an insight into the distillery and its single malt production processes. The distillery itself is located in the north of India in the foothills of the Himalayas and, with temperatures in winter dropping to 2°C and hitting 40-42°C in summer, the climate there presents some unique challenges for whisky maturation. The angels themselves take a whopping 13-14% each year as their share and, with this in mind, significantly aged Indian single malt isn't something you'll see very often (if at all).
Malt whisky production at the distillery actually commenced 27 years ago. However, most of this output was used as components for the aforementioned local Indian whisky. It wasn't until November 2015 that the distillery decided to bottle their first single malt and it was in the following year that their first expression, Rampur Select, was released.
It was with this whisky - Rampur Select - that we kicked off the tasting. This one clearly demonstrated the Rampur flavour profile which is carried through in all the other expressions. On this occasion, the dominant note on the nose for me wasn't so much pine but more rose water; it appeared in each expression to a greater or lesser extent.
All of the four whiskies reviewed here are non chill filtered and, with the exception of Rampur Select, they are all naturally coloured.
Rampur Select – 43% - £44.95
Matured in first fill bourbon barrels.
Nose: initial blast of turkish delight and rose water. Lemon bonbons and fresh lemon juice notes follow after a while. There's a hint of fresh lime in the background with strawberry Chewits notes emerging after a while in the glass. And finally, there's that aforementioned pine note.
Palate: Plenty of fruity notes such as tinned clementines, gooseberries and lychees. There's green apple which is quite tart - more of a cooking apple. There's a slightly herbal note - sage, I think. Towards the finish there's a hint of something akin to juniper berries.
Rampur Sherry PX Finish - 45% - £68.95
Finished for 8-9 months in Spanish oak which contained PX sherry for over 20 years.
Nose: at the start, there's just a very slight hint of burnt rubber in the background although I don't recollect anyone else noticing this during the tasting and I know I'm extremely susceptible to this. The fruity notes come to the fore after a while in the glass: tinned clementines and red apples as well as blackberry jam.
Palate: there are plenty of fruity notes with red apple being the most dominant. Vanilla notes appear after a while with hints of cinnamon - a bit like apple crumble with custard. There's also a hint of fresh ginger with Turkish Delight in to the finish (using capital letters here because I can also pick out a hint of milk chocolate).
Rampur Double Cask – 45% - £58.95
Matured for two thirds of its time in American oak and one third in a combination of Oloroso butts and hogsheads.
Nose: strawberry is the most prominent note here for me: strawberry Chewits as well as those strawberry foam heart sweets. Once again, there are notes of turkish delight and rose water with hints of red apples.
Palate: rose water comes through straight away. After a while, those fruity notes emerge: gooseberries and lychees once again with some foamy bananas for good measure. There's a slight dark chocolate bitterness on the finish which isn't unpleasant.
Rampur Asava – 45% - £68.95 (currently sold out)
Matured in American bourbon barrels and finished in Indian Cabernet Sauvignon casks made from French oak (the first time a single malt has spent any time in Indian wine casks).
Nose: turkish delight is here as with all the expressions. This is followed by notes of red apples and blackcurrant - the latter is more like undiluted Ribena rather than fresh berries. There's a slight nose burn here although the abv isn't greater than the others. After a while in the glass, blackberry jam notes appear.
Palate: turkish delight (but not as prominent as previous expressions). There are notes of blackcurrant Fruit Pastilles and black cherry yoghurt. This seems to have more oak spice than the other expressions and a slight ashy note on the finish.
Overall, what's interesting here is that Rampur has a clear idea of what the distillery character is. Anup Barik himself mentioned lychee and tropical fruit flavours; others on the tasting mentioned rose. However you describe it, it's clear that the same note carries through in all these expressions regardless of the type of cask being used for maturing the whisky. Whether you like it or not, you can't deny that the distillery has a clearly defined wood policy where the DNA of the whisky is still able to shine through without being overwhelmed by the cask.
Although I'm still not getting the Rampur Select - many others on the tasting did, by the way - I certainly couldn't continue to describe it as one of the worst whiskies I've ever tasted. Either it's changed or I've changed. Or I've just had more dodgy drams since 2018 to compare it to. However, I did actually quite like the PX Sherry Finish and the Double Cask. My favourite of the four, though, was the Asava. This was probably because that turkish delight note was still there but not as strong. In addition, there was a lovely jammy note throughout. It would be worth trying a sample first before buying a bottle although at the time of writing I think it's pretty much sold out in most retailers.
Many thanks to Rosie at MPR and the Rampur team for the samples and an entertaining hour or so tasting our way through the expressions.
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