Tasting notes in whiskeys make them ideal for food pairing, says Sandeep Arora

“We have been pairing food with drink for ages. Most cuisines are paired with one drink or the other — water, fresh lime, coconut water, wine… There is a pattern in which we do it. We know idli goes best with sambar and paratha with dahi,” says Sandeep Arora, director of ‘Spirit’ual Luxury Living, an international luxury spirits and whiskey management company. Sandeep gave an introduction on pairing Hyderabadi food with Chivas 18, Ballantine and Glenlivet of different ages for a select gathering at Taj Krishna last week.

In an interview to MetroPlus ahead of the session, he observes, “People are more aware of their whiskeys than wines. At a good bar, you will find people requesting for specific single malts or blends and not make a generic reference to white wine, red wine or wines sourced from a particular country.”

Sandeep is a man who knows his drink. He is more than a connoisseur who will regale you with trivia of single malts and blends. Sandeep took his passion for malts and blends to a new level when he became a certified ambassador of whiskey, after having studied about whiskeys in Scotland.

Though whiskeys have a fan following, the idea of pairing them with food is relatively new in India. Sandeep was the first to introduce whiskey-food pairing in 2007 in New Delhi. He says, “You should know which whiskey to pair with an aromatic biryani, kebab or western grill, so that the drink expresses itself best. Whiskeys have tasting notes, which you will not find in vodka, gin or beer. Whiskeys are allowed to mature in oak casks and wooden barrels and mature beautifully with age. Mature whiskeys are complex and that adds to the taste.” Having said that, he asserts that not all whiskeys of the same age would taste the same. “One has to observe the colour, take in the aroma and relate to the drink,” he adds. He recommends full-bodied whiskeys for curries high on oil and spices. For meats, he goes by texture, runny nature of the gravy and other factors. Desserts, too, can be paired with whiskeys. Sandeep feels whiskeys pair better with food than wine and reasons, “Wines are acidic while whiskeys are alkaline.”

Sandeep dismisses the notion that whiskey is a drink for old men. “We’ve passed the stage where we saw men nurse a drink over salted peanuts and finger foods. I find a cosmopolitan outlook towards the drink not only in Mumbai and Delhi, but also in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad,” he says and adds, “Women are heading whiskey companies in India and you will find women working in distilleries in Scotland. India has an exclusive whiskey club for women. The world over, statistics show that women constitute 30 per cent of single malt consumers.”

Later this year, Sandeep plans to introduce whiskey tourism to facilitate people eager to visit distilleries in Scotland and experience the brews from their places of origin.

Far from tipsy

Sandeep has held food and drink pairing sessions in different cities. The drink served with each course of the meal is 20ml and whiskey is mixed with water and not soda. “The carbs in the food line the stomach and the proteins cut through the whiskey. Water calms the whiskey and brings out its flavours. So these sessions won’t leave the guests too tipsy,” he says.

Whiskey as investment

Investing in wine and whiskey is yet to catch on in India, observes Sandeep. “Right now, people are intrigued. In a few years, we will see more people investing in single malts,” he says.