Chapter One . A Passage to India……
This year we’ve been doing a bit of travelling and not to islay for once ! Earlier in 2015 we headed west to Toronto again and at the end of the Summer we travelled just as far east to India . This time we could fly from our local airport rather than have to travel elsewhere .
Saturday 29th August
So we headed off to Newcastle International Airport to take the early afternoon flight to Dubai , as most people know i’m not the greatest admirers of Airports (give me Kennacraig Ferry Terminal anytime!) but at least Newcastles staff are a bit friendlier that the other UK Airport we’ve used…..
Our flight was at 1.45pm so having arrived early we settled in at the bar for a pre-flight drink and got to see our Emirates plane arrive……
(Click on the photos to see full size version)
It was going to be a long day(or two) , it was a 7 hour flight with a 3 hour time difference , i got to watch the Toon playing on the on board entertainment and watched a couple of movies , Melanie was engrossed in her Kindle . We have to say Emirates is a great airline to fly with , the staff are fantastic and the food was superb , the main meal consisted of a starter of Smoked Salmon with Pesto Potato salad , the main meal was Roast Chicken with Creamy Mash , roasted Veg with a Cranberry gravy and finished with Chocolate Pudding with a caramel sauce , rather yummy! We arrived at Midnight to temperatures of 38 degrees C , it was like stepping off into a sauna !
Sunday 30th August
Now it was a 3 and a half hour wait for the connecting flight to Bengaluru (Bangalore ) , again not the best place to hang around for me , too busy , unless you want to shop not a lot else to do . So at 3.30am we left Dubai , it was a 4 hour flight and another 1 and a half hour time difference . We set down at Bengaluru Airport just after 9am , first thing i noticed out of the window was rows of Coconut Palm trees lining the airport perimeter , very exotic , funny what you first pick up on….. To get into India from the UK you have to go through quite a lengthy process of getting a visa , it was actually easier to get my passport ! The Bureaucracy didn’t stop there , we had 2 more forms to fill in at the airport oh and a photograph taken , eventually we got through security and exited the Airport to a first for us , someone standing at the Entrance with a sign saying “Amrut Distilleries Welcomes Gordon and Melanie Homer” , wish i’d had my Camera out , a great welcome ! Pramod (who works with Ashok and we’d met in Paris last year) was standing beside the driver , Pramod was going to be our guide over the stay . The road leading away from the Airport is beautifully landscaped , even though it was Sunday morning the roads were very busy and we got our first glimpse of Bengaluru driving , it’s very hard to describe , stock car racing without the dunching (look up dunch….) , not so much as who has right of way but ‘Who dares Wins!’ It was a very colourful drive to our hotel in the centre of the city !
Interesting Fact No.1 -The Hotel we stopped in is built on the site of the original Amrut Distillery , the land is still owned by the family , the office block is called the ‘JNR City Centre’ ( JNR – J.N. Radhakrishna , founder of the distillery) and will shortly house – (or if you’re reading this in the future) now houses – the head office of the distillery .
After getting dropped off we grabbed a bit of a nap, freshened up and went downstairs to the bar to wait for Ashok to pick us up , enjoying our first Amrut in it’s home town while watching Black Kites (the feathered variety) flying over nearby housing . Fusion !
Ashok took us to his new abode to meet up with Viji and their kids Asitha and Jeeva , after a coffee and a catch up we headed back into the centre of town for a meal , he took us to the Vivanta by Taj Hotel on the MG Road , where we dined poolside……
I have to say it was a wonderful experience , a lovely setting with good friends and wonderful food……..
Travancore Fish Curry
My mouth is starting to water thinking about it again……. what a great way to start a holiday off !
The Chokalingams dropped us back off at the hotel and we went to bed knowing the next day we were going to sample the nectar at it’s home .
Monday 31st August
So after a bit of a lie in and Breakfast , Ashok along with Prakash (our driver through this adventure) picked us up to take us to the Distillery , i’ve done a few tours in my time but i knew this was going to be something special . We didn’t actually go straight to the Distillery , Ashok was going to take us to somewhere special first , somewhere not a lot of people get to see . The Journey out was once again busy and very colourful , there were an amazing amount of temples along the roadside , none of them dull !
After turning off the main Bengaluru – Mysore Road we headed along a small road littered with fruit and veg stalls , eventually we stopped at a farm which turned out to be owned by Amrut , it had a wonderful view …….
There were quite a few people employed on the farm , they had their own cattle and grew there own veg
There were Fig Trees and Coconut Palms growing , the Coconut Palms all had a number on them , so they knew if one went ‘missing’…….
They had there own temple
And we were shown the ‘Alternative Boardroom’ by Ashok , apparently they retreat here sometimes to get away from the hussle of the distillery and enjoy a nice cup of fresh Coconut Water , which we did , and boy it doesn’t half quench your thirst !
Of course the true purpose of the farm was revealed , it is the source of the water for the production of Amrut Single Malts ! It is extracted from a 300ft deep bore hole and then tankered to the distillery…..
After a lovely time exploring the farm , we headed to the distillery stopping at one of the roadside fruit stalls for Ashok to give us a try of the local produce , including Jackfruit , Bananas and Custard Apples . The Bananas were smaller and sweeter – and i have to say better – than the normal ones we were used to but the real surprise were the custard apples , they actually tasted like custard .
It may not look as pretty as some of the Scottish variety but they aren’t surrounded by Coconut palms ! On arrival we were greeted by a familiar face , the Master Distiller and Vice President (Production) of Amrut , Surrinder Kumar , we met Surrinder at Ashoks house in Newcastle a couple of years ago and spent a pleasant evening in his company . Surrinder was going to guide us around his ‘baby’ , after all he was involved with the building of the current plant in the 1980’s and has been overseeing production ever since . I’ve met some passionate people in the industry about their job and product but Surrinder tops the lot ! After a coffee to catch up we set off around the distillery…….
They’ve only had to contact the manufacturer of the mill once in nearly 30 years ! The Mash Tun has a capacity of 1 tonne.
they have 6 wash backs each with a capacity of 10,000 litres , the wash backs are water cooled to keep the fermentation temperature down .
They have 3 stills , 1 wash and 2 spirit , each has a charge of 5,000 litres .
(Left Picture above) Front right is the wash still , centre is the original spirit and the newest Spirit is at the rear.
They don’t use both of the Spirit stills together .
As well as Whisky production they are do Brandy here , using the original tiled containers and it’s own Column still .
Straight from the Stillroom we went into Maturation Warehouse 1 , Amrut have 8 warehouses around the distillery , in each warehouse they have a board stating the temperature and humidity , it was cooler in the warehouses than outside , a balmy 26 degrees C ! The humidity seemed to average about 56%…….
In Warehouse 1 we were shown Cask No.1 , Amrut only put numbers on the casks and not the year like the Scottish Distillers , they do know when each cask was filled ! If you look hard you can also see other indicators on the cask, a ‘ I ‘ indicates how many times it has been filled (one ‘ I ‘ = First filling , etc etc) and a ‘P’ indicates Peated Spirit . There is also a permanent reminder of when the first cask was put in to the warehouse .
There was also a strange cask in this warehouse , the pupose of this was to prove how much they lost through evaporation…….
While moving between warehouses we were shown the 3 bottling plants , the first one contained the single malt line , all the work is done by hand and the people who work on this line don’t work on any other , The filling in the bottles are hand measured , an on off switch rather than an automatic measure . Anyone wearing a green outfit in the photos is a permanent member of staff .
At this point we took a break to have a spot of lunch in the offices . I have to say i could get used to their lunches ! We then returned to the warehouses to sample a selection of Amruts finest !
For some reason i didn’t take notes of the first cask (probably the excitement !) , No.3742 , 1st fill Bourbon aged 4 Years 4 months .
The 2nd was Cask 3775 , another 4 year old 1st fill Bourbon , this was very creamy with Millionaires Shortbread and vanilla , water brought out more creaminess and marzipan .
For the 3rd cask we moved into Peated territory , 3527 was a 3rd fill Barrel , 4 and a half year old , not an overwhelming peatiness on the nose but the usual Millionaires shortbread . there was more peat on the palate along with the shortbread .
We moved on to the Port casks next , Port Pipe No.3877 , the spirit was 4yo but it had only been in the pipe for 1.5 years having previously been in a bourbon barrel , on the nose it was fruity and spicy , the palate was very fruity with the Amrut Liquorice , with water there were more spices , chocolate and shortbread .
Finally we hit the sherry ! Cask 3892 , Oloroso First Fill , The spirit again was 4yo but had only been in the Oloroso cask a year and a half , What can you say , Christmas Cake ! The Full Cake….. once again Liquorice and spices . What can you say about the one’s we sampled ? Sheer quality spirit ! Surrinder is doing a cracking Job !
We once more headed back to the offices to partake of a few more samples which i can’t talk about……..
Before we left Surrinder gave us a momento of our visit….
What a fantastic day ! Surrinder and Ashok made it very special , Thanks Guys !!!
We headed off with Ashok for a meal picking up Pramod on the way , he took us to a place at the South west side of Bengaluru on the Hosur Sarjapur Road Layout called Kanua , an absolutely stunning place
The food Ashok ordered was so good i only wrote down one….. Chicken Ghee Roast but his selection certainly went down well with us . Melanie also got to try her first Indian Wine , a Sula Sauvignon Blanc , it was rather nice ! Loads of lovely Grapefruit and not like any other Sauvignon Blanc i’ve ever tried . It was a great way to end a rather special day , Ashok returned us to our hotel and we headed off to bed to dream of Future Amruts…….
To be Continued…….