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All Whiskey Lovers Should Add This Indian Spirit To Their Bar Cart

All Whiskey Lovers Should Add This Indian Spirit To Their Bar Cart

Welcome to Add to Bar Cart, where Cool Material’s writers and editors recommend the spirits that they’re enjoying most right now.

Whiskey: the nectar of barley, the poetry of Celtic lore, an elixir as primal and earthy as the knotted wood that lends its flavor and color to the spirit. Since its first mention in a 15th-century accounting ledger from the Scottish royal court, whiskey has traveled from the hills and dales of Scotland to conquer the world. These days, masterfully crafted whiskeys come not only from the Isle of Skye or Bourbon County, but from lands as distant as Hokkaido, Alaska, and Patagonia.

India is another region that whiskey fans should take note of. In recent years, the subcontinent has adopted traditional whiskey distilling with gusto, developing a distinctive style defined by bold and spicy flavors. From Amrut Distillery in South India to GianChand in the Himalayan foothills, a bevy of connoisseur-worthy bottles can be found coming from India. But my favorite pour from India remains Godawan Single Malt Whisky, a gorgeous, hauntingly flavorful spirit from the arid plateaus of Rajasthan.

Godawan is a whiskey you can feel good about drinking, too: the company donates a large portion of profits to conservation efforts in Rajasthan, particularly to restore the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard, known in Sanskrit as the Godawan. This majestic bird has long been a symbol of Rajasthani royalty but was hunted to the brink of extinction in the 20th century. In partnership with Rajasthani prince Chaitanya Raj Singh, Godawan is working to rehabilitate this regal creature’s critically endangered populations.

ABV: 46 percent (92 proof)
Price: $80
Where it’s available: Select liquor stores in the Northeast, with expanded nationwide distribution coming soon

How Godawan Whisky is Made

Godawan Indian Single Malt

Credit: Godawan Indian Single Malt

Godawan’s unorthodox distilling process makes for an eccentric, but deeply compelling, flavor profile. While most of the world’s whiskey is made from two-row barley, Godawan’s distillers use six-row barley, which is a robust hot-climate variety that takes well to Rajasthan’s desert climate. Hardier and requiring less water than traditional two-row barley, six-row lends a slightly different texture to the distillate than what Scotch or bourbon aficionados might be used to.

By law, bourbon must age in American oak barrels, but Indian distillers are free to experiment with other types of wood. Godawan’s distillers use sherry barrels to age their Rich and Rounded offering and cherry wood for their Fruit and Spice.

Rajasthan’s dramatic diurnal temperature shifts mean the barrels lose an exceptionally high amount of liquid to the angels’ share (whiskey lost to evaporation) and the devil’s cut (whiskey absorbed by the wood). What’s left in the barrel, a densely concentrated ambrosia, sparkles with flavors of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and rich, dark fruit. To further intensify the riot of flavors, the distillers add jatamansi and rasana, perfume-like botanicals. (Bonus: jatamansi is considered a potent aphrodisiac in Ayurvedic medicine.)

What Godawan Whisky Tastes Like

While I keep a bottle of Fruit and Spice on my bar cart–I like the black pepper spice as a foil in sweeter cocktails–I prefer the Rich and Rounded as a whiskey to sip neat thanks to its notes of jammy fruits and baking spices.

The Rich and Rounded pours a dark amber in the glass, with a sweet, fruity bouquet that’s almost akin to a high-quality Caribbean rum. Here, there are none of the subtle hints of spice you might discern in, say, a pour of Woodford’s Reserve or Basil Hayden. Instead, well-defined notes of cinnamon, clove, and black pepper practically leap out of the glass. In the initial sips, cinnamon, nearly cinnamon syrup, dominates the palate–think neon-red candy like Big Red or Hot Tamales, or even, dare I say, Fireball (but this is a far cry from that cinnamony swill you quaffed freshmen year of college).

The whiskey lingers a good while on the palate, with a new set of flavors surfacing as the initial rush of cinnamon and baking spices fades. After a few minutes into a glass of Rich and Rounded, I get notes of ripe figs, jammy and concentrated like the Fig Newtons of childhood, and the delicious raisin notes of aged Barolo.

Drink Godawan neat or on the rocks the first few times to familiarize yourself with its distinctive flavor profile. Later, try it in cocktails. It’s a showstopper in old fashioneds, Manhattans, and other whiskey-based concoctions. At Dhamaka, one of Manhattan’s most coveted Indian restaurants, the bartenders use Godawan to riff on old-school milk punch, mixing whiskey, Darjeeling tea syrup, and clarified milk for one of the best whiskey cocktails in the city.

Why You Should Add Godawan To Your Bar Cart

Southerner that I am, bourbon will always be the queen of my heart when it comes to whiskey. But when I’m in the mood to sip something different, or want to dazzle dinner guests with killer whiskey cocktails, Godawan is the star of my bar cart. I’m proud to report my bar cart is starting to resemble a whiskey exchange at the United Nations: Alongside my cache of Godawan, I keep a bottle of Hibiki, my favorite Japanese whiskey; GlenDronach 12-year; and, of course, a few treasures from Kentucky. Each has their special place and occasion best served, and Godawan is no different as a distinctive spirit that will catch the eyes and hearts of everyone I pour it for.

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