Scotch may occupy the top shelves of stores, but it’s bourbon whiskey that rules the roost across bars and restaurants in India. Its caramel and vanilla notes complement a range of ingredients – ideal for a cocktail. Naturally, the popularity of this amber has gone from strength to strength (pun intended). Here’s looking at a few bottles that are on our radar.
American terrain – conducive to corn and rye harvests – saw the rise of sweeter whiskeys ever since distillation first began sometime in the 1700s. Over the years, they’ve gone from being hushed into speakeasies during the Prohibition period to proudly displayed in the bar cabinets of modern-day connoisseurs. These span six styles – bourbon, rye, rye malt, malt, wheat, and corn. Of them, bottles of bourbon are what bartenders most often reach for when it comes to crafting the perfect old-fashioned cocktail.
To qualify as one, a whiskey needs to come from anywhere in America (and not just Kentucky contrary to popular notion) and created from a mixture of fermented grain that’s at least 51 percent corn. That aside, it needs to be aged in new charred oak barrels, proofed only using water, and bottled at a minimum 40 percent ABV. This gives every sip notes of caramel, vanilla, honey, toffee, and wood. Within India, this style is relatively new, with Scottish and Irish options often taking centre stage. However, with more brands bringing their bottles to the country, this is steadily shifting. And if you’ve yet to savour the sweet experience of this American whiskey, there’s no better option to begin with. Here’s our pick of bottles to go with.
Check out our complete guide to whiskies in India
Give these flavourful bourbon whiskey options in India a shot
Elijah Craig Small Batch
Whiskey legend has it that one Elijah Crag – a reverend who also practised the art of farm distilling – laid down the process of ageing ambers in charred oak barrels. Today, all bourbons must follow this process as per American federal laws. And the eponymous whiskey – aged for up to 12 years – owes its subtle smoke flavour to this. It pours copper and has notes of caramel, vanilla, and nutmeg in every sip. On the nose are hints of fruit and mint. Few malts can elevate an old-fashioned like this one. It’s no surprise why it’s popular amongst connoisseurs.
Price: INR 8,000 approx.
Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Another popular whiskey in connoisseur circles – Maker’s Mark has been in the business of malts for over 50 years. Their Kentucky Straight Bourbon is handmade, with even the top of the bottle – an icon in its own right – being dipped in their signature red wax by hand. The whiskey pours a deep amber, with notes of vanilla and fruit in every sip. On the nose are hints of oak and caramel. The finish is subtle, rounding out the smooth experience of savouring this whiskey. If you’re just starting out on the bourbon experience, this is an approachable option.
Price: INR 7,500 approx.
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Woodford Reserve Distillery – a historic landmark for malt enthusiasts – has been dealing in all things fine bourbon since 1812. Their bottle of Kentucky Straight features over 200 flavour notes, ranging from floral to spicy. Rich and well-rounded, you’ll discover hints of orange, cocoa, caramel, vanilla, and cinnamon in every sip. The finish, meanwhile, is long and smooth – perfect to fuse with lemon and cranberry in a cocktail.
Price: INR 6,000 approx.
Consistently ranked as one of the world’s best-selling whiskey brands (and the second largest in the US) – every bottle of Evan Williams comes from Kentucky’s first commercial distillery. Smooth and rich, it pours an amber and has hints of vanilla and mint on the nose. Every sip, meanwhile, is reminiscent of oak, caramel, brown sugar, and pepper. A long finish rounds out the experience, making for the ideal addition to a Highball or just lemonade.
Price: INR 5,725 approx.
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Over 200 years of experience goes into every bottle of this bourbon – a signature of the brand. It pours amber and has notes of vanilla, mint, and caramel in every sip. On the nose, meanwhile, are hints of brown sugar, spice, oak, toffee, and fruit – with the finish being long and smooth. Often enjoyed neat, this one works like a charm with some ginger ale and orange.
Price: INR 5,000 approx.
Jim Beam Black Bourbon
A legacy brand that just so happens to be one of the most popular across bars around the world, Jim Beam’s bottles feature a recipe passed down generations (we’re talking great-great-grandfather). The Black Bourbon is triple aged – making it rich in aroma and colour. More specifically, it pours golden and has hints of vanilla and spice on the nose. Every sip, meanwhile, stays true to the bourbon notes of caramel and vanilla. Clean and smooth, it’s no surprise why it’s the best-selling of its kind in the US – and one of the best in the world. Best part? It’s affordable, making it a popular bourbon whiskey in India.
Price: INR 4,000 approx.
Wild Turkey Bourbon Whiskey
Rounding out this list is one of America’s most popular whiskeys. Distilled by the best in the business, the amber is aged in American white oak barrels with a level four alligator char – which occurs by burning the barrel for a few seconds. The payoff? A deep flavour, with notes of sweet vanilla, pear, and spice. The finish is full and rich and the aroma, intense. A classic way to savour this is to fuse it with ginger ale and lemon wedge.
Price: INR 3,000 approx.
All images: Shutterstock/Brands