Back in October 2019, I attended Whisky Live Paris, and there was an Amrut masterclass hosted by their master distiller, Ashok Chokalingam. He was really interesting to listen to and discuss with, and he directed the tasting of three Amrut drams, including the Amrut 10yo Greedy Angels Chairman’s Reserve 2019 we’ll review. But before tasting this Amrut, let’s talk about the Greedy Angels range, and what angels they’re referring to: what’s often referred as the angels’ share.
The story of the Greedy Angels
Amrut first launched its Greedy Angels bottling back in 2012. At that time, it was an 8-year-old bottling, the oldest Indian Single Malt ever bottled. It was released to celebrate the 60th birthday of Amrut’s chairman, Mr. Neel Jagdale. 144 bottles were produced of the little (in quantity) whisky that remained in the two ex-bourbon casks involved, as the angels’ share is quite important in India. 8yo wouldn’t seem much, but many people who tasted it said that blind, they would have believed someone telling them it was a 30yo Scotch whisky as the whisky was intensely flavoured.
Two years later, Amrut released their first batch of a 10yo Greedy Angels with 284 bottles followed by a second batch of 36 bottles in 2015. Then, in 2016 they managed to bottle two batches of 12yo single malt: a batch of 100 bottles for the 60th anniversary of La Maison Du Whisky, and another 100 bottles as the Chairman’s Reserve. A year later, a new and quite larger batch of 8yo Greedy Angels was released with at least 1350 700 ml bottles (not sure if the number of bottles includes the 750 ml variants). Finally, in 2019, they released two versions of the 10yo Greedy Angels: 324 bottles of a Peated Sherry Finish, bottled at 60% abv, and 900 bottles of “classic” ex-bourbon barrels, subtitled Chairman’s Reserve as previous bottlings, bottled at 55% abv. This is the latter we’re reviewing today.
So, what’s the Angels’ Share?
There are two answers to this question: it’s part of whisky maturation, and a very fun film by Ken Loach about a mythical cask of Malt Mill to be sold on an auction at the Balblair Distillery. Go watch the latter if you didn’t already (Wait! Please finish reading this first!), and let’s talk about the former answer.
The Angels share is the term commonly used to refer to the loss of liquid from a cask of maturing spirit due to evaporation. I use the term “maturing spirit” and not just “maturing whisky” as all spirits (whisky, brandy, cognac, wine…) matured in oak casks will be subjected to this evaporation. Wood is a porous material that contracts and expands with the seasons, depending on humidity, temperature, airflow, the quality of the cask, the skill of people involved, and many other factors.
The X Factors
The influence of the oak
The skill of the cooper who made the cask will have an effect, with the staves of the cask being more or less tight depending on the skill. If the joins of the casks and there’s too much space between the staves, or even leeks, the losses of liquid will be greater than for a tight cask. Then the warehouse man has an influence on the cask, as casks turned regularly will not see tiny cracks appear where the oak is not in contact with liquid, making it dry.
Oak is also a factor by itself, as it is a natural substance with quality and properties that may vary from one cask to another: casks made with oak coming from the same forest by the same cooper will be different as oak trees are not all with the same quality.
And the influence of the climate
But that’s not all. New make spirit is, to simplify, around 65% pure alcohol and 35% water when the cask is filled. Water and alcohol are not drawn through the wood and evaporated for the angels to enjoy at the same rate according to the environmental conditions (humidity, temperature, airflow) in which the casks are stored. Alcohol is more volatile than water so it evaporates more easily from the cask, but even the evaporation is influenced by the environmental conditions.
When humidity is high in the warehouse, the water will evaporate more slowly and it will be mostly alcohol that will be lost. In Scotland, where the relative humidity is around 80 to 90%, this is the case and it is mostly alcohol that will evaporate, diminishing the ABV of the maturing spirit over the years. However, in drier climates like Kentucky for example, water can evaporate faster than alcohol, resulting in an increase in the alcohol by volume during the maturation of the spirit.
Controlled airflow is important too. If the airflow is too important within the warehouse, then the concentration of water and alcohol in the atmosphere will be lower, and thus the evaporation will be sped up.
Then, the higher the temperature in the warehouse, the faster the evaporation of alcohol and water will be. That means that in some warehouses where casks are stored on several stories, the ones stored on the top, where the ambient temperature is the highest, will suffer from a higher share taken by the angels than the casks stored at the bottom with cooler temperatures. However, with hotter temperatures, the liquid expands, which augments the contact with the wood, allowing more absorption of flavours.
The Angel is in the (ware)house
The location and style of the warehouse greatly affect these atmospheric conditions and thus the angels’ share. In Scotland, many distilleries have old-style “dunnage” warehouses. These are traditional warehouses, not very tall and quite small compared to other warehouses. They’re usually built with an earthen floor, stone walls and a slate roof, and barrels are stacked on top of each other with three casks high. Since they’re not tall, the temperature difference between the casks on the bottom and the ones on the top is very limited. And since they usually have an earthen floor, they tend to have a higher humidity allowing moisture to seep out, and a higher humidity results in a slower maturation. However, there is no heavy machinery to move and rotate the casks, so it’s more labour intensive for the warehouse man to rotate and switch the casks.
Some distilleries, on the other hand, use racked warehouses. They have thinner walls and tin roofs, they’re a lot taller than dunnage warehouses, allowing from 8 to 12 stories of pallets 3 barrels high to be stacked on top of each other, with steel shelves. The walls are usually made from brick or concrete, and the floor will be concrete too. The atmosphere at the bottom of a racked warehouse is cool and moist, and the molecule of water being very small, water from the surrounding moisture can penetrate the cask, lowering the concentration of alcohol over time. On the other hand, the top of a rackhouse has a very hot and dry atmosphere, allowing the water to evaporate faster than the alcohol, which has much larger molecules, and the ABV inside will go up.
Both dunnage and racked warehouses have their pros and cons, and it’s difficult to say which one is the best for maturing whisky. What’s important to observe though is that many distilleries in fact use both dunnage and racked warehouses to mature their whisky.
Are all angels equally thirsty?
I won’t detail the atmospheric differences about all the countries producing whisky, but let’s take a closer look to four of them with data from a city from each of those countries: Edinburgh for Scotland, Louisville for Kentucky (USA), Taipei for Taiwan and and Bangalore for India, where Amrut is based. I chose those cities as enough detailed climate data was available.
In Scotland, humidity is high all year long. On average, November to February are the dampest months (83-84%), while April to June are the least damp with 75-76%. The average humidity in Edinburgh is 80.1% along the year.
Regarding temperatures, the annual mean temperature is quite cool at 8.4°C (47.1°F). July is the warmest month, with an average temperature of 14.5°C (58.1°F) while January is the coolest month, having a mean temperature of 3.2°C (37.8°F). The variation of mean diurnal temperatures is of 7.4°C (13.4°F) which means the mean difference between the night and the day is 7.4°C on average along the year.
Now let’s move to Louisville, Kentucky, as 95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky. The humidity is way lower than in Edinburgh (who would have known!) with an annual average of relative humidity of 57%, and the average monthly relative humidity ranges from 52% in September to 68% in January.
The annual mean temperature of Louisville is mild at 13.3°C (55.9°F). July is like Edinburgh the warmest month with a mean temperature of 25.1°C (77.2°F) while January is the coolest month with a mean temperature of -0.2°C (31.6°F). The variation of diurnal average temperatures is higher than Edinburgh, with 11.1°C (20°F).
For its part, Taipei (Taiwan) has a slightly higher humidity than Edinburgh with an annual average of 81.6% of relative humidity, going from 78% in July to 84% in January:
Regarding Taipei’s temperatures, they are really warm, with a mean annual temperature of 21.6°C (70.9°F) and an average daily variation of 7.6°C (13.7°F). The hottest month is July with a staggering average temperature of 28.5°C (83.3°F) while the coldest month is February with an average temperature of 15°C (59°F), a wee bit more than Edinburgh’s hottest month!
And in India
Finally, let’s see what the usual climate is in Bangalore, India, where Amrut is from. The average annual relative humidity of 65.2% is not that high, 15% less than Edinburgh average humidity, with March being very dry at 45% and August quite damp at 79% on average:
The average annual temperature in Bangalore is fairly hot at 24.1°C, hotter than Taipei and way hotter than Louisville and Edinburgh. The variation of daily average temperatures is also quite important with 10.4°C (18.8°F) on average between night and day. April is the hottest month with an average of 28°C (82.4°F) while the coldest month, December, is still quite warm with a mean temperature of 21.1°C (70°F).
Let’s stack the data to ease the comparison
Now if we compare the humidity of the four cities in a single graph for readability purposes. We can see here that Edinburgh and Taipei both have similar high relative humidity, while Bangalore as a huge variation and Louisville being more regular but the dryer on average:
Regarding temperature, the differences are very visible here, and you can imagine the huge differences in evaporation due to the temperatures in those cities:
Now how does that translate in the average angels’ share percentage for these regions? The average angels’ share in Scotland is usually said to be around 2% and the alcohol by volume will lower over time, while in Kentucky the angels’ share is said to be around 5%, with the ABV slightly higher than what it was when the cask was filled after a few years. In Taiwan, the angels’ share is between 10 and 12%, while in Bangalore they also lose close to 12% of the spirit per annum due to evaporation and the ABV after 3 years will be more than 2% higher than the initial filling ABV:
Now I think I’ve bored you enough about the angels’ share, if you want to go even deeper I really encourage you to read iLaddie’s article, well documented and explained.
As you can see, at Amrut the angels are quite greedy, hence the name of the bottle, but let’s crack on with the tasting, talking that much got me thirsty.
Amrut 10yo Greedy Angels Chairman’s Reserve Review
Tawny. Quite a dark colour for an ex-bourbon cask, the extraction from the wood was quite important in those 10 years. Despite the abv, thin legs are quick to form after a swirl and some of them descend quickly against the glass.
Vanilla, honey and caramel appear immediately, quite strongly. Then, the nose evolves to some kind of sponge cake with orange juice, toffee and custard cream. The nose is really rich, you could spend hours nosing this before wanting to take a sip (I’m kidding, you definitely can’t wait to take a sip). There’s also a tropical fruity side to it, with pineapple, mango and maybe a very light touch of bananas. Water provides notes of cherry and sultanas.
The arrival is a bit sweet and spicy, with a silky mouthfeel, but after a few seconds the spice level raises a bit. Pepper is a bit prickling on the tongue without being aggressive. There’s a noticeable oak flavour present without being overpowering, with a bitterness like a dark chocolate with a very high percentage of cocoa. Caramel and ginger follow when the bitterness quiets down, with a very discrete touch of honey. With reduction, the palate is fruitier and more velvety, with a touch of citrus on top of blood oranges.
A bit woody, with honey and dark chocolate, leaving a nice warmth on the tongue and the throat for a long time.
What a dram. The nose is absolutely marvellous and rich, with several layers, it’s so good you might want to nose this for hours. On the palate, the 55% abv are perfectly tame so you don’t need to add water at all. It’s rich and flavourful, but maybe the oak was a bit too present for my taste. And finally the finish is warm and long. This dram is really really good, too bad I had so little to taste. The bottle wouldn’t be that expensive (around 650€ on LMDW and a steeper £680 on Master of Malt) for my budget, I’d definitively buy one. Unfortunately for me, it’s not. A damn shame, I really would have loved a bottle of what those damn Greedy Angels deigned to leave in the cask after those 10 years of maturation.