McDowell’s unveils India’s first luxury single malt whisky aged in Indian wine casks

Crafted for the modern Indian palate, McDowell’s & Co Distiller’s Batch Indian Single Malt breaks new ground with a unique terroir-driven expression

Updated - May 15, 2024 07:33 pm IST

Published - May 10, 2024 02:31 pm IST

McDowell’s & Co Distiller’s Batch Indian Single Malt

McDowell’s & Co Distiller’s Batch Indian Single Malt | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The story of the latest Indian single malt goes back over a century. Founded 125 years ago, McDowell’s and Co is India’s original alco-bev pioneer.

Now Diageo India has reinvented its most widely sold spirit, to introduce McDowell’s & Co Distiller’s Batch Indian Single Malt (750 ml, 46% ABV — alcohol per volume of beverage). This time it has been crafted in India with a strong tether to terroir and a celebration of young India’s preference for quality homegrown spirits. 

McDowell’s and Madras
The brand is named after Angus McDowell, a Scottish businessman who built a warehouse at Fort St. George, close to Madras (now Chennai) and, from 1826, served the British expat community with imports of groceries and spirits. In 1959, McDowell’s & Co established its first distillery in Cherthala, Kerala, marking the genesis of the McDowell’s No.1 brand, launching brandy, then whisky and rum. In 1968, the brand launched McDowell’s No.1 Whisky, marking the inception of the world’s largest selling whisky, born out of India.

Vikram Damodaran, Chief Innovation Officer, Diageo India discusses why this offering, launched recently in Gurgaon, marries the best of India’s whisky making traditions in its most prolific wine producing region in Nashik, Maharashtra. “This single malt has undergone about five years of cumulative ageing, in ex-Bourbon casks followed by virgin American oak and finally in Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz barrels (from small wine-making families in Dindori, Nashik that also supply to Grover Zampa Vineyards). This maturation lends the malt a bittersweet and long-lasting finish like a red wine,” he says.

The malt is crafted out of six row barley growing in the North West frontier region, designed to maximise flavour notes of cut grass and fresh meadows. The other important ingredient to craft this single malt is the terroir itself. “Dindori is a valley nestled in the Sahyadri mountains, and it has a torrid summer, rain and a temperate winter. This heat, humidity, and chill is necessary for maturation, to lend the malt its signature style,” elaborates Vikram. On the nose, the whisky sings of vanilla and fresh fruit, with gentle after notes of citrus and spice. On the palate, it yields a velvety richness with hints of sweet wood and fresh fruit.

Hemanth Rao, (second from left) at the tasting and launch of McDowell’s & Co Distiller’s Batch Indian Single Malt

Hemanth Rao, (second from left) at the tasting and launch of McDowell’s & Co Distiller’s Batch Indian Single Malt | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Given its triple cask maturation, and a growing scarcity of virgin oak casks across the whisky making landscape, Vikram says the time may be ripe for India to experiment with cask making. “Oak is chosen because it’s great for ageing, offering woody and vanilla notes and releasing negligible toxins into the liquid. In India, we can use sal with great toasting possibility and low toxin release. Another area where India can experiment is peat availability that is now restricted to certain microclimates in Scotland and New Zealand.”

While the country offers ample opportunity to create a truly Indian single malt, Hemanth Rao, founder, Single Malt Amateur Club of India (a platform to share experiences and information on single malt whisky, with over 4500 members) says collaborating with Diageo India in the creation of this new single malt, offers a unique vantage point.

McDowell’s & Co Distillers Batch Indian Single Malt

McDowell’s & Co Distillers Batch Indian Single Malt | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 “Partnering with us, and understanding the viewpoint of consumers and respecting that, speaks of the intent of the brand,” he says, adding that the spirit itself is accessible, encourages people to enhance their whisky journey, and offers a subtle transition between a high-end blended whisky and a single malt. It is also palatable for all taste profiles, and its provenance is deeply imbibed in the liquid itself.

For now only 6,000 bottles of this McDowell’s small batch single malt will be sold, first in Haryana, followed by Goa, Mumbai and Hyderabad. For the design, topographic details on the packaging are a tribute to the Nashik distillery, where mountain mists embrace the whisky casks. Deep purple tones reflect the region’s vineyards and outlines of mist shrouded peaks adorn the packaging, coming alive with a golden map.

Tasting session

Tasting session | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ruchira Jaitly, CMO, Diageo India, is confident that the malt will be well-received by India’s whisky connoisseurs. “We are paying homage to an India that is confident, affluent, and willing to experiment,” she said, echoed by Vikram, who added, “Indians are looking for authenticity, local stories and experiences are important to create a mindful luxury brand.” 

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