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Whiskies from India and other emerging markets arrive in Pittsburgh

"A lot of people are reluctant," but new whiskies "blow people away."

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Pittsburgh resident Raj Sabharwal wants you to try something unexpected: high-end, single malt whisky distilled in India. "A lot of people are reluctant because they think, ‘Oh, it's India,'" admits the co-owner and managing director of the U.S. branch of Purple Valley Imports. "But in blind tastings, [the whiskies] blow people away."

These Indian whiskies, produced by Amrut Distilleries, have racked up numerous awards. For example, Fusion, a sweet and smoky 75/25 mix of cask-strength and peated single malts, won Malt Advocate's 2011 "World Whisky of the Year." The vibrant and citrusy Two Continent 2nd Edition — distilled, as the name suggests, on two continents — was named Whisky Advocate's 2012 "New World Whisky of the Year."

Amrut is part of a growing trend in international whisky distillation: Production is beginning to spread beyond traditional hubs like Scotland, Ireland and Kentucky. Sabharwal says Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia all appear to be developing strong whisky-production cultures.

To that end, Sabharwal — a certified wine and spirits educator who spent time in the corporate world before partnering with Purple Valley in 2008 — is looking to bring more spirits from small, international distilleries to the U.S. He says he's even tailored vacation itineraries around visits to promising distilleries … though nowadays, more often than not, he's the one being contacted by interested buyers. 

It can be a bit of a challenge to get your hands on Sabharwal's imports; both the stock and locations offering it are limited. Strip District distributor Dreadnought Wines carries the entire Purple Valley single-malt line (though some labels sell out quickly). PLCB Premium Wines and Spirits stores began carrying Fusion last month. Sabharwal says Piper's Pub, Winghart's and Bar Marco all serve Amrut. He expects it will appear in other local bars in upcoming months. 

Sabharwal is enthusiastic about more people opening their minds to off-the-beaten-path single malts. But he acknowledges that these smaller distilleries will likely remain a niche market. "You're not going to see them at Costco," he says.

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