A novice discovers the subtle flavours of whiskey variants at a tasting session held at the Westin

Almost everybody who attended the whiskey appreciation event at EEST, Westin Velachery seemed to discern the many complex flavours of whiskey. All this was new to someone like me who followed the general rule of thumb, which is to slowly take the first sip and then gulp down the rest. Sensing my awkwardness, the evening’s host, Sandeep Arora, director of Spiritual Luxury Living, that provides consultancy and services in top-end luxury spirits in India, walked up to the table and gave me my first lesson in whiskey appreciation. “Today, you’re not getting drunk,” he said sternly. This is not the occasion, I told myself.

Through the course of the evening, we were to taste the Glenlivet Single Malt whisky — actually three of them all of which have aged differently. He picked up the glass that contained a 15-year-old Glenlivet and looked at it with awe, just for a moment.

“A little bit of water is enough to release the oils and its many flavours,” he said, adding some water to the whiskey. Holding the glass up, he said, “Look, look. Can you see the whisky opening up?” At this point, I sank into my chair. I had been doing it wrong all this while. My friend clarified her doubt: Is coke the worst thing to add to a glass of whiskey? “It kills the flavour,” replied Sandeep. If you are thinking that ‘on-the-rocks’ is perhaps the best way to drink it, apparently that doesn’t work as well. “Too much ice dilutes the whisky, but I leave it to you,” he said.

What is so special about Glenlivet that it deserves appreciation? “The Glenlivet variants are complex whiskeys. They have different layers of aromas and flavours. For instance, a 12- year-old Glenlivet has pineapple and Indian summer fruit flavours coming through. A 15- year-old whiskey is softer,” he says leaving me to my first drink of the night — a 15-year-old Glenlivet.

On this particular Saturday night, it was paired with pan-fried scallops, dim sums and sushi. To read from the menu, the liquor is supposed give out orange peel and grapefruit aromas and taste incredibly smooth. After making a mental note to crosscheck for facts, I ‘open’-ed up the whiskey as instructed and took my first sip. It was indeed smooth and sweet although it was difficult to understand the logic of why this particular scotch needed to be paired with this specific cuisine. “It is not as though Glenlivet should only be paired with Asian foods. It is difficult to embrace pairing because we all have different palettes,” he offered.

Next up on the menu was the 12-year-old Glenlivet, which was paired with the main course that consists of tenderloin teriyaki (beef), salmon or fried noodles with vegetables. The flavours felt a bit stronger than the previous one.

“Wait until you drink the 18-year-old, which is a lot more complex and has depth,” he assures. After hearing the word ‘complex’ for the hundredth time at the event, it was time to ask the basic question: what does he mean by complex? “Take Fanta, for example,” he graciously tried to answer, “There is only one single flavour – it feels orangey, right? When you are drinking a certain whisky, you should notice how it doesn’t have a single statement. There are different layers of flavours and aromas. That defines the complexity.” I nod in agreement.

We are served the dessert — triple coconut bliss, along with the final drink of the evening, an 18-year-old Glenlivet. The 18-year-old does feel more complex and is harsher on the tongue, just like how Sandeep said it would be. The taste lingers even after you have a spoon of coconut ice cream.

Hearing this, Sandeep replied, “Oh, many felt that the 18-year-old was the smoothest.”

As the informative evening came to a close, I was feeling good about myself — I did not feel high and I was learning to appreciate whiskey the way it needs to be. But, something was wrong. As I tried to get up, my legs refused to untangle themselves and that’s when my friend broke the news: I had had one too many, yet again.