Single malt whiskies. Those who love ’em go that extra mile to source them, spending hours at duty frees or scouring bylanes of Edinburgh for that special bottle of golden nectar.
Until a few years ago, I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. Wine is more my thing, though my husband is one of the aforementioned whisky freaks. On a three-day ‘break’ in Islay, Scotland, we whizzed around to every single one of the island’s distilleries. Ignoring the charming island with its pot-bellied sheep and delightful kipper breakfasts, we attended a 10 am warehouse-tasting at Lagavulin, became ‘Friends of Laphroaig’, picnicked on the Bunnahabhain pier, and spent a good three hours at the Bruichladdich distillery store. It was a breathless lesson in understanding a bit about legendary malts.
India has always been a whisky lovers’ paradise. So it doesn’t surprise that the numbers of those with a yen for superior malts should be rising. Or that Bangalore, with its reputation for being quietly discerning, should be home to some whose idea of fun is to sip exquisite malts on tranquil evenings. One secret group, for instance, meets regularly over dinner with their bottles of rare malts. Tasting notes are read out, Glencairn glasses are cradled and nosed, and verdicts passed. An annual trip to Ooty, where the weather comes closest to Scotland, sees malts sipped in leather chairs by the fireside. A rare find from a mothballed (closed) distillery, or an unusual variant generates excitement.
Whisky professional Sandeep Arora of Spiritual Luxury Living has been watching the growth of malt whisky drinking in India. The shift in taste the last decade was a natural evolution, he believes. Even old Bollywood movies showed the well-heeled lounging in velvet smoking jackets in chandeliered mansions, glass of ‘golden nectar’ in hand. Over time, whisky lovers have gone beyond what he calls ‘samosa whiskies’ (regular blended whiskies) towards rarer, more complex malts. “Moving towards appreciating rather than just drinking single malts takes time,” he says. Women, too, are gradually adding to the numbers, joining the men in appreciating specials like The Macallan 25 Sherry Cask, Talisker 30, Hibiki 30, Yamazaki 25, or finds from mothballed distilleries like Rosebank and Port Ellen.
The trend brings a growing number of whisky ambassadors to India to promote their brands. The Leela Palace, which lists 40 single malts among its 76 whiskies, hosted a dinner a while ago with Glenfarclas malts for a special few. At Leela’s Royal Club, five courses were paired and served with Glenfarclas Cask 105 and 12, 25 and 30-year old malts, while a kilted and sporraned George Grant, sixth generation of the Grant family, added dashes of humour to the brand’s history. The Leela’s Jimmy Kuruvilla avers that the Indian love for single malts will continue to surge. “People are far more knowledgeable now.”
An extra filip was added when Amrut Fusion, a malt made by the eponymous Bangalore-based distillery was judged the world’s 3rd best whisky in 2010 by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. At a recent blind tasting conducted at Bangalore Club, members rated Amrut ahead of attested world favourites; the results repeated at several blind tastings, including some in Scotland.
Arora sees more informal clubs coming up over the coming years, where malts are researched and invested in by those passionate about them. Some of the investments involved would raise more than a few eyebrows. But, hush! It’s a quiet revolution and no one’s talking.
Ruma Singh presents a column on observations, insights and what’s buzzing in the city.