Amrut Portonova, like the wildly popular Fusion, is another homerun for Indian whisky producer Amrut. Like the Intermediate Sherry release, Portonova is constructed using an involved process that Whisky Advocate editor John Hansell describes as a “port-pipe sandwich”: The single-malt spends approximately 3 years in a combination of new and ex-bourbon barrels, in the hot and humid Indian climate, followed by a dunk for several months in imported Portugese port pipes. After picking up some port character (again, this is a tropical climate so the process is accelerated), the whisky is transferred back into ex-bourbon barrels to marry before bottling at cask-strength. I’d personally be very curious to try two whiskies matured in this way: one with and the other without the final boubon maturation, to see if it has any real effect. At any rate, the whole process takes somewhere between 3 and 4 years, and the malt retails for almost $125.
Yes, $125 for a 4 year-old malt whisky. I’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about price again. It’s becoming more and more evident that the whisky industry’s pricing during boom times is based less on maintenance of profit-margins, and more on flights of whimsy. You can argue all you want that port pipes are expensive to import, that whisky evaporates faster in a hot climate, that specialty bottlings are expensive to produce, or that smaller/boutique producers don’t have the production capacity or efficiency to pump out cheap whisky by the truckload. If Amrut can make a 3 year-old single malt and sell it for $50 (which no doubt contains the same wild profit margin), they should be able to produce a four year-old cask-strength port-sandwich version, with 33% higher ABV, for $75 at the most.
The conclusion is simple: whisky producers (especially those with “hot” products in a burgeoning market) can charge whatever they think they can get for their whisky, and the only defense those of us with budgets have is to carefully pick our malt purchases to maximize the price-vs-quality ratio of our collections. See my article about price-vs-quality for some strategies.
All that said, Portonova is an exquisite product which (in a blind tasting) could easily be confused with a $125+ 21 year-old wine-finished scotch. Last I saw, it had sold out everywhere but if you have the budget, a love of port/wine finishes, and see some on a shelf somewhere, just know that I thought it was fantastic.
Only 150 cases were produced. I got the opportunity to taste Portonova, which was labelled only as ‘Amrut Mystery’ in the #amrut5 twitter tasting late last year. Thanks to Colin for organizing the Amrut Twitter Tasting, and sending me the samples!
Color: Deep dark mahogany. Richly colored.
Nose: Piercing nose – a sour top note like key limes over a layer of round, plummy sweetness. Lots of port character – ruby berries, plump black raisins, resiny brandy. Underneath there is a hint of banana sorbet, but distinctly different from other Amruts.
Palate: There’s the Amrut banana upfront. Sweet and just off cloying. There is moderate tongue burn, followed by sweet-and-sour mix, cinnamon raisin toast, sticky prunes, banana nut bread and raspberry jam. Viscous mouthfeel: syrupy but not oily or thick.
Finish: Subtle, but long. Leaves behind a sherry-like cherry syrup, drying oak, and some vague savoriness/meatiness. A bit muddled.
Overall: The nose is something unique. That sour high note combined with a sea of dark fruits and rich layers of port make an uncanny but delicious combination. I’m not sure where the sour lime note comes from – it’s not something I associate with port – but it carries through on the tongue. The finish is a little bit vague, with most of the exciting flavors dried up and only the wood and some remnant plummy notes left. But the nose… I could sit and smell this all day.
With Water: The sour note I mentioned is amplified by the addition of water. It reveals notes of green banana, sweet pea, and toffee in the nose. On the tongue, the whisky becomes sweeter and the burn is very much diminished. The finish, also, is somewhat clarified, with more green fruits and some golden raisin. I definitely suggest trying this with a very small amount of water.