On a guided tour of five brews, the audience learnt a thing or two about appreciating whiskey from expert Sandeep Arora
“Floral, fruity, Bunty, Bubbly… These are flavours you enjoy in Rangoli gardens in Delhi,” snorts Sandeep Arora, climbing onto the stage with a glass of whiskey. The audience, stiffly sitting in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton Park and Towers, rippled with relieved laughter. So, he wasn't one of those experts, leading newbies into mires of fanciful adjectives and overwrought metaphors.
Calling himself India's Whiskey Ambassador, Sandeep was leading a whiskey appreciation at the Park Sheraton Hotel and Towers in the city. His objective was to guide guests through five remarkable brews. General Manager of the hotel Virender Razdan introduced the session as a ‘private whiskey appreciation' revolving around the idea that “Age matters… because time matures whiskey, adding complexity and flavour.”
We hold up glasses as Sandeep explains how a blended whiskey's age is determined by the youngest whiskey in the bottle. “Age adds character. Imagine a raw whiskey. In India, it would be santra-narangi; in America, it's moonshine; in Scotland, it doesn't matter — you just drink it!” As the more feisty drinkers start swigging, he cautions, “Appreciation is not a Grand Prix. Take it slow…”
Our first glass is a 17-year-old Ballantine. “Deep gold with a green border. It's shy, and needs a soothing caress.” Guests give each other bewildered glances, as the description gets considerably more X rated. “It's got wildness. An erotic structure.” Right. So much for cutting through the drama. So how do you approach a wildly erotic whiskey in a suitably ladylike manner? “Caress it,” Sandeep repeats, holding his glass up in a manner that should have brought its father out with a shotgun. We take quick embarrassed sips, ending up with an unglamorous case of whiskey-fumes-in-the-nose. He mutters from the stage, “I told you so.”
He tries a different approach for the 18-year-old Chivas and Glenlivet, urging people to drink it as a tribute to who they were 18 years ago when the drink was bottled. Which takes my table of four back to school, and glasses of Bournvita, making the whole exercise more entertaining than poignant. It's a good idea, though. You respect a drink that much more when you realise how far you've come in the years that it was leisurely ripening in a barrel.
The evening had plenty of practical tips too. Don't add soda because it absorbs the natural sugars and leaves a very dry palate that's likely to give you a hangover. Coke and whiskey is “sacrilege — like adding sambar to Dum Pukth biriyani. It kills the flavour.” Huge helpings of ice tend to water it down. The best mixer is a little water; it “unleashes the serpent.”
For those of you who associate whiskey with your father and his hoary golf buddies, here's a newsflash. It's getting increasingly popular with young clubbers and women. Sandeep, director, Spiritual Luxury Living India, a spirits and whiskey management company, tracks drinking trends. He says 30 per cent of the single malts in the world are consumed by women. In fact, he recently was at the launch of an all-woman whiskey club in Delhi, called ‘Spirit of Nero.'
Stating that Scotland's marketing muscle is what made its whiskeys so famous, Sandeep suggests alternatives for connoisseurs who want to widen their palate. These include Irish brands Tullamore, Connemara and Kilbagen. He adds that there are good Japanese, Canadian and Swedish options. “There's also ‘Swhiskey,' Swiss whiskey.”
Amid talk of the flavours of lavender and Indian summers we try our last whiskey, a 21-year-old Royal Salute, which is as delicious as it is vibrant now that we're associating every sip with quick trips down memory lane. There's also a mellow 10-year-old Aberlour paired with a robustly spiced, luxurious South Indian dinner by Dakshin.
It ends up being a rather cheery evening. Even if most guests choose to handle their glasses like old friends rather than wild first dates.