Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Review / McDowell's Reserve No.1 Indian Whisky

McDowell's Reserve No.1 is the biggest selling whisky brand in India. Not only that but it is officially the largest seller in the world (source - Drinks International 2022 report) with an incredible 30 million 12-bottle cases sold every year. Infact, the first four whiskies on the world sales list are all Indian - McDowell's is joined by Imperial Blue, Officer's Choice and Royal Stag. These four brands push Johnnie Walker into fifth place. McDowell's sells six million more cases than its closest rival. The brand is engrained in Indian culture and regularly features in Bollywood movies and cricket sponsorship. McDowell's also release popular brandy and rum expressions, plus a ready-to-drink whisky and soda.

McDowell's Reserve No.1 whisky was launched in 1968 by McDowell & Co, part of the United Breweries Group. The brand has been owned by United Spirits Limited (USL), the spirits wing of Diageo India, since 2014. The whisky is made by blending Scotch single malts sourced from Diageo distilleries in Scotland, plus Indian single malt and grain whiskies. The malt has been produced at the Seven Seas distillery in the coastal state of Goa since 1988. The brand is named after Angus McDowell, an entrepreneur who went out to India during the British Empire.

McDowell's Reserve No.1 is bottled at 42.8% ABV and is available in liquor stores around India. While most is sold in India, it is exported to 20 other countries around the world including Japan, the Middle East and Gulf states. A 75cl bottle should cost ₹1,100 (Indian rupees), which is around £10.

Our Tasting Notes

The colour is vibrant gold and the nose is full of sweet aromas. Toffee and butterscotch lead the way and are quickly followed by honey and vanilla sugar. Further aromas of green apple and pear, dried grass and malted biscuits follow. These are accentuated by hints of baking spice, cocoa and white chocolate.

On the palate this whisky is soft and sweet. Notes of toffee and butterscotch lead the way again and sit alongside some honey, white chocolate and a hint of golden syrup. The vibrant sweetness is tempered somewhat by a distinct biscuit-like quality. This adds a little depth and comes through as a malty and slightly earthy note.

While the sweetness dominates, other characteristics come through also. This particularly comes in the form of soft, cooked green apple and a hint of poached pear. There is also a hint of dried grass or hay towards the end and this gives the whisky a little grip in the mouth. Some late but subtle spiciness gives a pleasant heat on the finish - think of white pepper, cinnamon and a hint of mace.

As the sweet notes fade, the finish becomes warmer and drier. The spice and malted earthy notes aid this and help to drag the finish out a little. A late pinch of cocoa powder and hints of lemon zest and white chocolate round things off.

What's The Verdict?

McDowell's Reserve No.1 whisky is sweet and perfect for hot weather. On our recent visit to the country, we learned that everything is sweetened in India so this explains the flavour profile here. It is easy to see why it sells so many bottles as it sits in where many people's palates are comfortable. 

McDowell's is quite basic but pitched at a very accessible price. We quite enjoyed it neat but it sat better for us over some ice or when mixed with cola or soda water - this made it very refreshing in the heat and humidity that we experienced. 

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