GLASGOW, Aug 26 (AFP) -

Indiaís Ďchocolate-tyí single malt finds favour with Scottish palates

Indian single malt whisky is making its debut in Europe, and while itís no threat to Scotlandís world-dominating whisky industry, itís earned warm kudos from some discerning Scotch-lovers.

Amrut Single Malt Whisky, a product of Amrut Distilleries in Bangalore, southern India, made its official debut Tuesday in Glasgow ó part of a carefully plotted marketing strategy that grew out of a university thesis.

Plans call for Amrut Single Malt to appear on the drinks menus of the 460-odd Indian restaurants in Scotland, with distribution to be extended soon to the rest of Britain and, later, the rest of Europe.

Test samples are already tickling palates in France, Italy and Spain ó prime markets for Scotlandís own single malts, from global favourite Glenfiddich on down.

"Iíd prefer that it stands on its own as an Indian single malt whisky," Amrutís young executive director Rakshit "Rick" Jagdale told AFP. "That should be our USP," or unique selling point.

Made from barley grown in Punjab and Rajasthan, then malted in Delhi and Jaipur, Amrut Single Malt is distilled in Bangalore where it is then matured in American oak casks for three years.

Amrut, part of the family-controlled Jagdale drinks and pharmaceuticals group, expects to sell most if not all of its maiden export shipment of 1,000 cases ó a dozen 70-cl bottles per case ó by Christmas.

While mainly available through Indian restaurants ó of which, Jagdale says, there are 20,000 across Britain ó the whisky will also be available through specialist shops and Internet retailers.

The idea is that if Indian beers such as Kingfisher can find popularity with Britainís legions of curry-lovers, then an Indian whisky can, too.

"We find it compares very favourably with the panoply of single malts available today," said Alistair Sinclair, a Scottish whisky expert who helped Amrut with the technical side of its fledgling brand.

By coincidence, Amrut launched its new product as it emerged that Glenmorangie, one of Scotlandís best-known whisky brands with a history going back 300 years, was being put up for sale.

An AFP reporter in Glasgow found Amrut Single Malt to be light and easy on the palate, if lacking the peat flavour that is the hallmark of many great Scottish single malts like Laphroaig.

Jagdale, who sketched out Amrutís marketing strategy in his University of Newcastle business school thesis, used the word "chocolate-ty" ó a seemingly peculiar description that others concurred with.

"Lots of countries make whisky," with Indiaís own brands "frankly not good," said Bill Clapperton, an Edinburgh journalist who covers the single malt industry which, in Scotland, covers literally hundreds of brands.

"But now youíve got this one coming across, and Iím really quite surprised, actually," he told AFP. "It is distinct. It has distinctions to it."

"You can actually pick out just a tweak of mint, and a hint of Maltesers," a popular chocolate treat in Britain, he said. "And vanilla, which comes from the American oak barrels... Add water and itís even silkier."

Ken Storrie of the Potsteel bar, a Glasgow mecca for whisky buffs, judged Amrut to be "quite punchy, fruity... It doesnít have a long after-taste... a very pleasant malt".

He said that in blind taste tests, "just to stir up a bit of controversy," patrons at Potsteels were offered shooters of Amrut, then invited to guess what it was.

"Ninety-five percent automatically put it down as a Speyside," one of Scotlandís great single malt regions, he said. Asked to guess again, most replied Ireland.

Back in Bangalore, 5,000 barrels of Amrut Single Malt are maturing, waiting to make the long journey to Europe ó a wee dram compared to the 19 million barrels lying in wait in Scotlandís distilleries, but still a start.