Post image for Amrut Herald – An Indo-Germanic Whisky?

Amrut Herald – An Indo-Germanic Whisky?

by Oliver Klimek on July 12, 2011

The Facts

Last week, the Indian Amrut distillery announced a very special whisky release: The Amrut Herald.

Four bourbon casks of five year old Amrut single malt whisky had been stored dor further 18 months on the tiny German North Sea island of Helgoland which had been under British control for the longest part of the 19th century and a few years after the Second World War.

One of the casks yielded 222 bottles which are sold exclusively in the shop of Niels Pförtner on the Island for about €80. The other casks are supposededly allocated to selected other markets, but so far no specific announcement was made by Amrut.

Two things need to be set straight. In the original press release the distance of Helgoland to the German mainland is given as 70 kilometres or 45 miles. Obviously they confused miles and kilometres here because the true distance is 45 km or 28 miles, making the island appear somewhat less remote. Errors like this can happen, of course. But it becomes rather embarrassing when the German Press release (PDF download) distributed by the importer Prineus uses the same wong numbers. They are located in Kiel which is the capital of Schleswig-Holstein, the German state that also Helgoland belongs too. Shouldn’t they know it better?

And then the blurb on the box calls Helgoland an archipelago. Well, Helgoland consists of two parts – the rocky main island and a sand dune that had been connected to it until a severe storm surge destroyed the connection in 1721. But to call this an archipelago is stretching the concept quite a bit, especially if you take into account that the closest island to Helgoland is almost as far away as the mainland. But of course an archipelago is a much more exciting place than a simple island.

Fact or Fiction?

But apart from that little squabble, there is a much more interesting question to ask. Why Helgoland?

The press release emphasizes the gentle Gulf Stream climate (the announcement of the Herald in the magazine Der Helgoländer calls it a ‘rough high seas climate’, by the way) of the island and the contrast to the tropical climate of Bangalore where Amrut is distilled, resulting in a unique whisky expression.

But how much of an influence can maturation on Helgland actually have? The whisky was already five years old when it was transferred to the island. In respect to the significantly faster maturation in India this whisky can be regarded as almost fully matured. Maturation will be much slower in Europe, so it is very doubtful if the 18 additional months can have a real impact on the character of the whisky.

And keep in mind that to take full benefit of the local climate, the whisky has to mature in a location where it can actually interact with the atmosphere unaffected by other influences. There are no whisky warehouses on Helgoland not very surprisingly. And neither are there farms where you could store the casks in a barn. Unless the casks were put in one of the little sheds in the small gardening colony on Helgoland, the casks must have been stored inside a house. And here it should be obvious that the influence of local climate will not be as big as in a proper warehouse.

Now Helgoland also happens to be a duty free haven. Tourism and duty free shops are the two main income sources for the islanders. So it is not quite unlikely that the casks were stored in the shop that is selling the bottles now. And it does not take much imagination to suspect the real reason why Amrut selected Helgoland for the Herald.

After the Amrut Two Continents, the Herald is the second Amrut bottling matured partly in Europe. But that expression was matured a little shorter in India and then for three years in Europe, so you may think of it as an attempt to slow down maturation. But as much as I am in favour of whisky experiments in general, I have to admit that I don’t see the point in the Herald. Isn’t taking a mature (to Indian standards) whisky abroad for just a little longer anything more than a gimmick? It is the geographic equivalent of a cask finish, with the difference that re-casking has a true impact on the whisky.

Judging from the press releases, Amrut seems to be keen on bridging the gap between the Indian and the European style of whisky, perhaps because they feel restricted in their maturation options due to the hot Indian climate. But isn’t Amrut whisky loved by many for the very reason that it has its own distinctive ‘Indian’ style? Why should they now try to dilute this, especially when the influence of such an “island finish” may be more psychological than real?

What remains is a lot of buzz about a whisky with an undisputable noveltly value. But being talked about is never a bad thing. And I am eager to try the Herald anyway.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Steffen July 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I don’t really like this blogpost Oliver

It’s just too negative for me, and it seems like you are just out to harass Amrut

And I think it’s too far to harass Amruts for “errors” when the errors are more to be found in your blog post.

1. The distance “error”. In the original press release it was Prineus quoting the distance as well. If it’s miles versus kilometer misunderstanding or just the ferry distance I don’t know. End of the day it’s Prineus who said it and is quoted for it. Again, picking on a thing like this I can only see as pure harassment

2. Archipelago. Well two islands is the smallest archipelaga possibloe. Wikipedia : “It is now used to refer to any island group or, sometimes, to a sea containing a large number of scattered islands such as the Aegean Sea”. Again, picking on this I can only see as harassment

3. Doubler maturation. I think your claim that the maturation period is too short to have any effect is plainly wrong, seen the effect double maturation had on Two Continents. If I had to set up the 2nd maturation period personally I would ALSO had chosen a shorter period to retain more of the original Amrut character, which was there wasn’t too much left of in TC. Only the taste of the whisky can tell us that. I can only see your critisism here as harasment again

4. Helgoland. You write Why Helgoland ? Why not I would say ? And I can’t really see why a random basement and cellar should be different than a warehouse. The Northern Europe Climate is gonna affect this

End of the day I find this blogpost one of the worst on facts I have ever seen, and I can only say I disagree with everything from start to end

Steffen

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Steffen July 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm

And Oliver

The worst is that we discussed this on a whiskyforum as well, and it doesnt seem like you have read what other people wrote there about Amrut Two Continents, ti me it seem like you have set up your mind from the start, without listening to others. Again another prove that you for some reason that I can’t understand, are only out to harass Amrut

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Oliver Klimek July 12, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Steffen, it is not my intention to harrass Amrut. In fact I have a general sympathy for them. But this does not mean I have to be happy with this bottling and how it is announced. I know this is a dividing issue, and I am probably in the minority camp. But the – admittedly subjective – impression that the maturation concept may not be the primary objective for doing this in Helgoland makes me grumpy, especially in the light how the particular Helgoland climate was pointed out. To comment on your points:

1. If the German importer had not blindly copied the numbers, I would not have mentioned it at all. But they really should know. Remoteness was an issue in the press release, so the numbers do make a statement.

2. Just a small mosaic piece. Of course advertising likes to exaggerate. But iI don’t think it’s harrassment to point it out.

3. I did not claim the second maturation did not matter at all. I just doubt that the impact is as big as suggested by Amrut. I would be most interested in comparing cask samples before and after the Helgoland storage. Only then we could really know.

4. Storage in a house gives you influence of heating, even if the storage room itself may not be heated. Storage in a cellar dampens temperature influence. Do you really think this wouldn’t have any influence? You are right. “The Northern Europe Climate is gonna affect this”. It could as well have been in a house on Islay or in Sweden. But being so particular about the Helgoland climate looks a bit like distracting from the duty free status.

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Steffen Bräuner July 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm

1. I REPEAT AGAIN OLIVER : The german importer didnt blindly copy numbers. Please read the original press release. Here the german impoter is quoted saying that. So he ain’t repeating anyone but himself. This part is starting to annoy me with your wrong accusations

2. The enviroment in a cellar is very simlar to a warehouse imo, so I don’t get your point at all.

3. Ofc they are being specifc about the climate of Helgoland, cause thats where they had their whisky

I don’t see anywhere or read it as anywhere that the climate of Helgoland is important apart from being different from Bangalore…

Steffen

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Oliver Klimek July 13, 2011 at 6:40 am

It is a fact that the numbers in both press releases are wrong. You think the importer made the wrong statement originally because it is quoted. I think the error has sneaked in somewhere in the editing process and the importer failed to correct this when creating the German version. Either way, it doesn’t really make a difference or does it? If he didn’t know the real distance in the first place, wouldn’t that be even more embarrassing than just failing to correct an error as I was ‘acccusing’? Kiel is just 150 km away from Helogland, getting the distance wrong by this margin would be embarrassing when preparing an international press release. This whole issue is not a drama, but it is also not impertinent to point it out. Unless someone comes forward to tell what really happened, any further nit-picking on this petty stuff is usesless anyway.

A warehouse is surrounded by air on five of six sides, a cellar of a house is surrounded by earth on five of six sides plus it has a building on top that is heated in the winter. True, in summer a dunnage warehouse with earth floor has a cooling effect because of evaporating soil humidity. This corresponds to a certain extent with the characteristics of a cellar. But in the winter, a cellar never gets really cold because it is heated from upstairs and the surrounding earth will never become as cold as the air outside. A warehouse is not heated and it it is exposed to cold air and snow in winter, so it will be a lot colder than a cellar. And the Herald was in Helgoland for two winters. Another factor is that cellars don’t experience much of a day/night fluctuation because of the same reasons. In short: I think a cellar (or any other indoor storage room) dampens the climate influence significantly more than a warehouse.

And for the records: When I phoned the importer I also asked about the storage location, but I only was emailed the press release and the “Helgoländer” article a few days later.

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gal July 13, 2011 at 11:31 am

I am actually interested in this release. i hope to sample it soon.
Let’s try to find the good things. If the whisky is shite which i am sure it is not as Amrut do not release BAD whiskies, then we can trouble about all those little facts ;)
Slainte!

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Oliver Klimek July 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Of course the most important thing is that the whisky should be good, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t. Issues like this one should not distract from the actual whisky. But IMO this doesn’t mean we should just ignore them.

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Duffer_dk July 19, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Quote Gal: “If the whisky is shite which i am sure it is not as Amrut do not release”
I think this is a matter of taste. I have tried a few Amrut whiskies – including the ever so popular Fusion. I think it very “chemical” and certainly not to my liking. And paying 80 euros for a few year old whisky – tax free!

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kallaskander July 13, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Hi there,

mistakes are easily made.

Take the new Kilchoman. The distillery wrote: Kilchoman is pleased to launch this first bottling of ’100% Islay’ . This whisky has been produced from barley grown, malted, distilled, matured and bottled at the distillery.

What you can read now and then is: Kilchoman’s latest ‘100% Islay’ release is exactly what it says on the tin, or in this case the bottle. It may surprise some to know that it is infact the first ever Islay whisky to be fully produced from barley to bottle on the island.

Or in that gist….

Kilchoman does not to my knowledge claim that it is the first ever Islay whisky grown malted distilled matured and bottled on Islay.
Such a claim would be plain silly and with a distilling history of more than 100 years who would know today?

I think something like sloppy marketing intentions are to blame for such mix-ups.

Greetings
kallaskander

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Interested July 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm

If as you state “Tourism and duty free shops are the two main income sources for the islanders” are you 100% sure that they do not have any warehouses? I would find it quite hard to believe that an Island that’s main draw is shopping and is only accessible by boat does not store goods in warehouses.

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Oliver Klimek July 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Helgoland is tiny. It is only 1.7 sq km and has just over 1000 inhabitants. There are no real port facilities to speak of. On google I could find no mention of something like a central goods storage. So it is very likely that the shops have their own storage on site. There are 30 DF shops most of which are fairly small and open only in the summer.

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Interested July 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm

A quick 5 minute google search for me has revealed that Helgoland,s inner port has a warehouse of 10.000 square metres and it’s outer port has a warehouse facility of 500 square metres.
This was found on the page http://www.offshore-haefen-sh.de

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Oliver Klimek July 16, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Thanks. I honestly did not come across that myself. Of course we still don’t know if the casks were actually stored there. It’s a pity that my question about the storage location was not answered.

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Interested July 16, 2011 at 11:07 pm

It was not exactly a hard bit of research to do, I typed ‘Warehouse’ and ‘Helgoland’ in to Google and it was a link from the 1st page.

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Oliver Klimek July 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Of course I did the search in German. And because in the German text they used the slightly obscure compound word “Hallenlagerfläche” for “warehouse storage area” I did not find this when looking for the more obvious “Lagerhalle” or “Lagerhaus”.

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Gerd Schmerschneider July 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Hi Oliver,
Just to solve some confusion:

Distance: we took the ferry distance between Büsum and Helgoland which is roughly 70km. Take a look at the Wikipedia to see the difference between the different locations, mainland, Helgoland and other island. But anyway, it is in the North Sea, this is the main influence. I really don’t care if is 67km to Sylt or 47km to Eiderstedt.

Why Helgoland? Because we can. For logistics it was a nightmare, it is outside the EU, huge paperworks all transport by ships etc. Bottling on the island was also not easy, everything has to be brought over. The climate is moderate all over the year. Amrut asked us for a location in Germany to store casks so we came up with Helgoland.
We have a good contact to a retailer on the island, so we asked him and dit it. Simple as that.

Warehouse: It was indeed a warehouse. It stores loads of other spirits (in bottles), no heating, just plain wooden and metal walls. The cask were stored in the second level of pallets, on the right side in the back of the warehouse.
http://maps.google.de/maps?q=Helgoland&hl=de&ll=54.176912,7.889007&spn=0.001281,0.002127&sll=51.151786,10.415039&sspn=22.565756,34.848633&z=19
Close to the r of Ringelstraße. And please don’t ask which r.

Does it make a difference? Yes, indeed. I had the chance to do an before and after tasting. We took samples after the arrival of the casks and compared them afterwards. The difference is quite big. And just to let you know: There is still one cask left which will mature for a further period of time, another couple of years for sure.

Nobody has done this before so why shouldn’t we try? It was an experiment and it went very well. And of course we did some marketing around. It is not our business only to do it. We want to sell it. It don’t see anything wrong with that.

Oh and next time call me in person. I had the idea and did all the work at the island and around this bottling. If you have any further questions, let me know!

Cheers
Gerd

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Oliver Klimek July 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Thank you very much Gerd for taking the time to clarify things, especially about the storage. And I hope you understand that my article was indeed fuelled by doubt and not by aversion as suggested. It is good to see that you found a proper storage place, I admit that I became a bit wary after my question about storage went unanswered. And of course beyond all the discussions about influence or non-influence of the local climate – I have no reason to doubt that it will be a good whisky.

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Oliver Klimek July 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

And directed to all readers: Please allow me one more (hopefully final) word about the – admittedly unimportant – distance issue. The confusion was helped by the fact that the difference between ferry and linear distance is pretty much the same as the conversion factor from kilometres to miles. Ferry distances can be misleading, so I’d really prefer if linear distances to the mainland are used. As a more extreme example: Islay is just above 20 km off Kintyre, but the ferry distance from Kennacraig to Port Ellen is more than 50 km. Now how far is Islay away from the mainland? I absolutely don’t want to look nitpicky, but I too have received complaints that some of what I wrote was misleading, so this not meant as criticism, but really only for the sake of clarification.

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Gerd Schmerschneider July 19, 2011 at 8:19 am

Hi Oliver,
The German translation and press release had been done by a UK company. Not too bad, but probably slightly misunderstanding.
Before the bottling Ashok of Amrut Distilleries asked me about the distance to Helgoland. We’ve planned the trip always from Büsum so I gave him this distance, just to give him an idea about the time we need. That’s it.
:-)
Cheers
Gerd

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