There were bagpipers, a rainbow of Scottish tartans, kilts and whisky galore. At the Icons of Whisky 2014 awards, being held for the first time in Bangalore at the ITC Gardenia, the buzzing atmosphere said it all: the swish set clinking glasses, deft bartenders pouring whisky cocktails and a bountiful antipasti table preceding a lavish dinner. As the awards commenced, a wail of bagpipes heralded the highly entertaining‚ addressing the haggis’ ritual by whisky expert Charles MacLean, who quoted the famous Robbie Burns poem with aplomb, before ceremoniously stabbing the haggis with a knife.
The awards were instituted by the UK-based Whisky magazine to celebrate “the people and places behind the great whiskies of the world.” In this case, the focus was on India in the Rest of the World category (the main centres for the annual awards are Scotland, USA and Japan, as well as the global Icons ceremony in London). A varied range and style of whisky-centric bars with a stellar lineup of whiskies competed for the top prizes. And out of the 25 all-India competitors, five winners of the gold standard awards were from Bangalore. Interestingly, the bars themselves were a study in contrast, with just their razor focus on whisky as the common denominator.
ITC Windsor’s Dublin, a gold winner, was an early entrant into the fray with their vintage and rare whisky collection acquired in 2004. The new Ritz Carlton Bar, a contemporary take on a traditional whisky bar, boasts of 76 whiskies on its list. Highland Nectar at the ITC Gardenia has the distinction of being India’s first whisky bar, set up in 2009. The bar at the Sheraton’s Bene has created a name for its whisky and cigar dinners in al fresco settings. Leela Palace’s Jimmy Kuruvila says the gold-winning Library Bar has a unique world whisky collection. “We have 84 whiskies, including the Girvan 1964, the Talisker 30, and the John Walker, specially blended from rare whiskies from mothballed distilleries and sold in hand-blown Baccarat bottles. We believe in investing in training our staff to serve whisky the way it should be.”
Other whisky learnings for me that evening: aficionados prefer drinking their rare whiskies at home; the 18-year-old single malt is the new 12 year old ( in terms of preferences), and women’s interest in whisky is growing at 10 per cent annually. The curator of the Indian Icons of Whisky Awards Sandeep Arora, who has been observing a steadily growing enthusiasm for whisky drinking in the city the last five years, said the onus was now on the award winners to draw customers by creating a stimulating atmosphere conducive for drinking whisky. This would bring both the newbie and the aficionado to the bars, away from the hitherto preferred environs of their home. He says, “It shouldn’t be led by costings – just a need to spread the culture of refined, elegant drinking of one of the world’s finest beverages.”
Ruma Singh presents a column on observations, insights and what’s buzzing in the city.