A Trip Around the World of “World Whisky” with @WhiskyRaj of Purple Valley Imports

the world

The World. It’s a pretty nice place in the galaxy and one that we all want to visit every corner of. We must since we all talk about world travel:

“I want to see the world!”

“When we retire, we’re going to see the world.”

“Dad, can we go to IHOP for breakfast?”

Some of us are lucky enough to make the lifelong dreamt treks to see the planet and its natural and human-made wonders, its many peoples, cities, villages, petrol stations, and McDonalds with $25 Big Macs. We’re a curious species. If we’re not planning our next vacation, then we’re watching the Travel Channel looking at some far off place that makes the proverbial bucket list while welded into our couches so permanently it would take the jaws of life to cut our butts out of the cushions. We shop for international foods at our local markets and eat in ethnic restaurants in some sort of quasi-journey to Germany (Bavarian chocolate from Whole Foods), Japan (sushi), and Mexico (Taco Bell’s Burrito Supreme, which really is just like being in Mexico City, I’m sure). Of course, we know full well but are afraid to admit that most of the ingredients and products come from China. Oh, well. Sure would be easier to go to China to see the world in some respects, and skip all the middlemen. Be that as it may, we forge ahead with our plans and trips.

My world travel though limited has always left me yearning for more if only to get one of the those cool international converter kits (“220, 221.  Whatever it takes“). And when opportunity rears its foreign speaking head, I’m all over it like Furikake on gohan. So, when the Voice of World Whisky, Raj Sabharwal (@WhiskyRaj) of Purple Valley Importers invited me to a tasting recently, I couldn’t say Si, Oui, Ja, Ken, Baleh, Hai, fast enough. Well, it took a few days actually since I get queasy at the thought of air travel even though I’d be driving to the event.

Raj, Bill Campbell (also from Purple Valley) and Chris Uhde (@WhiskyRedHead) hosted a fun event at the funky little Blind Donkey (wonderful whisky menu!) in South Pasadena, CA where Raj offered up six whiskies from around the globe. In about an hour, the palate traveled from England to Canada to Australia, back to England, then to India. Unfortunately, no frequent flier miles were earned but the benefits were far greater. This is THE way to see the world without the jet lag, currency exchange, and hard to read street signs.

First up was The English Whisky Company‘s Classic Single Malt from St. George’s Distillery. A really delightful dram with elements of licorice and toffee, and was very smooth which really is a simple way of saying it was highly enjoyable. I could see this as a great “go to” whisky always in the cabinet.  A great way to start our world trip!

Next stop: the Great White North with the Stalk & Barrel Single Malt (Cask 5) from Still Waters outside of Toronto. Now to be honest, I’m biased towards most things Canadian except Toronto’s mayor. And I’m on a bit of Canadian whisky exploration these days which could well come from these boys at Still Waters Distillery in the heart of Leaf’s Nation. I tried this baby at Whisky Jewbilee in October and was hit by a slapshot right of the face-off. It’s overwhelming and shockingly good while being just a puppy.  See, mom, age doesn’t matter always. Bottled at cask strength (60.3%), it’s full of Granny Smith apples, pears, vanilla and heat. That .3% must be what puts it over the top. This one is on my “buy ASAP” list.

“They make THAT where?”. There does seem to be a fair amount of that going on in the whisky landscape these days. There is so much very high quality whisky coming from all over the globe that heads are being tossed about like mad. Raj took us next to the Southern Hemisphere with Australia’s Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask Single Malt (click here to read G-LO and Limpd’s review). Ok, it’s not from Scotland or a country that I associate with whisky, so…processing…thinking…processing…wrapping brain about concept…head hurts…another sip of Sullivan’s. Calculation complete. The answer is Excellent. No need to show my work but it was a lovely example of what’s going on in various corners of the world. It was a smooth, creamy, a bit fruity and delicate. Insert your own cliche Australian joke here, crikey!

And then…things got weird. Actually peated and weird but to each his own.  The English Whisky Company makes a peated version of their single malt that everyone at my table thoroughly enjoyed. My guess on that is because it’s wasn’t a knock-you-over-the-head peated dram. The peat smoke was there but not in the classic Islay flavor palate. It’s much more subtle yet not in the background a bit. I remember this one from Whisky Jewbilee too and it stuck with me how different it was from it’s cousins up north and to the left.

3rd Best Whisky in the World. That will wake you up especially if that whisky just got poured in front of you. 2010’s Whisky Bible said so about Amrut’s Fusion and that’s a pretty good feather in one’s cap. Amrut is a 60 year old distillery in India (!…more processing) according to Master Raj and has over 3,000 employees. That’s a lot of W-2’s. By comparison, Islay has just slightly more than 3,000 inhabitants! There’s a whole island’s worth of people making us the 3rd Best Whisky in the World! So many, yet so kind.  And the good folks also make a peated version appropriately called Amrut Peated Indian Single Malt.

Ok, Fusion is one that really is a contrast of flavors and styles. Scottish peat and Indian whisky. Hmmm. A little nutty idea, if you ask me. But it’s weird and wonderful. Fruits and soft smoke, sweetness and fire. It’s heavy and rubbery yet soft and a bit creamy. Contrasts all mixed together in a melting pot of an international recipe. This needs to find itself on a menu at taverns and restaurants. It would pair with so many types of dishes. I don’t know about 3rd best of anything except which of my kids is #3 on the depth chart (not telling anyone until I’m on my deathbed). I do know that Fusion is a special whisky if only because of it’s unique melding of flavors and styles.

We stayed a little longer in India (it’s a big country!) for Amrut’s Single Malt (click here to read G-LO and Limpd’s review) that was well worth the extended stay. Big, bold and earthly and less fruit than Fusion. Carmel, vanilla and leather dominate (keep it clean, people; there are kids reading) this dram. I picked up the Cask Strength Peated expression a few days later and now plan to add the rest of the lineup. I remember trying Amrut a year ago at WhiskyLive in LA. On recollection, I can’t remember why I was not as enthused then. My guess (and memory) is that Raj also had Blackadder that night which could have easily blocked out any memory or brain cells I had of any other whisky tried that night.

So, there you have it.  4 countries (5 if you’re betting on Scottish Independence), 6 whiskies, and 1 happy taster.  I’m tired after all of that travel.  But it’s a good kind of tired.

Whisky Haiku
smoky peated dram
water barley yeast and wood
make mine a double

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