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Homelifestylefood-and-drinkThe spirit is willing

The spirit is willing

It must take a Scotsman a lot to swallow his pride and allow his tipple not be savoured neat or with a splash of water ‘to release the dragon’ but to be shaken and stirred into an infernal cocktail. Yet, Whyte & Mackay’s global brand ambassador Andrew Lennie was in town to talk about Ardmore and Jura and how they make excellent cocktailslike JuraSunset with Aperitivo and tonic, Jura Java with coffee liqueur and cold brew, andBuon-Jura-Mo with aromatic bitters.

These are still days of whisky snobbery where even the water you add to your whisky is questioned, thanks to mixing waters from Estuary to Emaa. When you’re India’s largest alco-bev category with six billion litres of whisky consumed annually, you learn to mix well with anything. While the rise of gin and new spirits like agave, Pisco, Mezcal, vermouth and tequila have electrified the segment, whisky still captures the popular imagination thanks to homegrown single malt brands like Rampur, Godawan, Amrut, Paul John, Indri, Gianchand and Woodburns.

The mixology game

Single Malt Amateurs Club (SMAC) founder Hemanth Rao says, “Historically, India has consumed whisky with additives and mixers, a practice previously shunned. The narrative was that Indians didn’t know how to drink whisky. Today, most brands are making single malts, especially for cocktails; a drastic change. What was earlier a no-go is now a lifeline or vertical for the single malt community. Markets are expanding and Scots are trying to adapt to what people outside Scotland like Japan, South East Asia or India yearn for. The weather is not conducive to drinking whisky all year around here, which is why cocktails play a greater role. Another factor is the increase in experimentation thanks to innovative bartenders. Unlike blended whiskies, which are well-rounded, single malts have their own distinct character that lends well to mixology if you knowhow to use them.”

It’s no secret that single malts complement the robust, full-bodied flavours of Indian cuisine. At the exclusive launch of Paul John Whisky’s Alter at Conrad Bengaluru, SMAC’s Hemanth and Harsha Thimmaiah presented whisky-based cocktails like Highball and Old Fashioned using Paul John Brilliance before a tasting session of Alter. Alter is part of the jigsaw that’s Alter-Ego; its foil Ego is slated for release next year.

Harsha says, “I’m a Puritan! The thought of mixing a single malt that spent 12years patiently in a cask, with juices, bitters and other ingredients to produce acocktail for the appeasement of a new-age consumer, gives me shudders. But it’sthe need of the hour! A new malt today is accompanied by signature cocktailrecipes and the narrative — ‘Drink it the way you like it’, to capture youngerdemographics. This is essential for brands to stay relevant. Single malts incocktails will be forging partnerships for the time to come. India’s whisky consumeris well travelled and no longer appreciates that we remain a ‘dumping ground’for standard editions, and demands new products. Alco-bev companies mustevaluate their brand strategies and reassess their offerings for a market that is the largest consumer of whiskies in the world.”

Ingredient innovation

Fronting India’s cocktail renaissance are top-ranking bars like Sidecar in Delhi (#18 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023), The Bombay Canteen and Masque’s The Living Room in Mumbai. India’s top bartender and Sidecar co-founder Yangdup Lama believes that innovation by mixologists and embracing Indian ingredients are triggering this revival. He grew up in Kolkata and loves using local flavours like tea, gondhoraj lime, timbur (Himalayan Sichuan pepper) and panch phoran (five spice).

Copitas at Four Seasons Bengaluru, is the city’s only bar in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 and ranks 38. Its ‘seed to fruit’ beverage programme features signature cocktails using local ingredients like vettiver (khus), nannari and betel leaf. ZLB23 at The Leela Palace Bengaluru has shaken and stirred up Bengaluru’s cocktail scene. Styled like a Kyoto speakeasy, ZLB offers Prohibition-era cocktails with a focus on Japanese whisky and gin. GM Madhav Sehgal has hosted exciting bar shifts with top names from The World’s and Asia’s 50 Best Bars — Employees Only (New York), Vesper (Bangkok), Handshake (Mexico), Atlas (Singapore), Wax On (Germany) and world No 1 Paradiso (Barcelona). On a visit to Bengaluru, Paradiso owner Giacomo Giannotti spilled the secret behind cocktails like Great Gatsby, Macallan 12-year-old double cask whisky matured in American oak and ex-sherry casks blended with white truffle honey, bitter and lavender essence, smoked with vanilla and chocolate flavoured tobacco leaves!

At a recent bar takeover at ZLB23, Floreria Atlantico owner and celebrated mixologist of Latin America, Renato ‘Tato’ Giovannoni explained why it ranked 18th in The World’s 50 Best Bars. Tucked away behind his flower shop in Buenos Aires, the cocktail bar has unusual concoctions rooted in sustainability, indigenous ingredients and research into Argentina’s immigration history. Tato’s freewheeling chat with international spirits consultant Priyanka Blah delved into the resurgence of cocktail culture. “Whisky drinks will never leave. Highballs came back in fashion. It’s a great ingredient to play around with as every brand and spirit is different with a unique flavour profile. Whether using whisky or a particular brand, you need to understand what’s inside the bottle,” said Tato. Mixologist Neil Alexander who moved from Windmills Whitefield to Windmills USA emphasises on homemade infusions and bitters, though his mantra is “keep it simple”. In a place known for craft beers, his cocktails like Smoking Barrel and Whistlin Dixie are noted for their nuance, sophistication and finesse. For the Karnataka-themed restaurant Oota, he crafted special cocktails with native ingredients — from Sanikatta salt used as salt foam to local sugarcane for Mandya Sour.Total Environment Hospitality CEO Ajay Nagarajan explains how in a recent collab with Diageo, Windmills used Godawan Single Malt bourbon barrels and sherry casks for their Barrel Aged Stout and Barrel Aged Horchata White Stout to achieve really complex flavours.

No matter how youdrink it; the future of liquid sunshine seems bright. As American comedianJohnny Carson famously said, “Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle ofwhisky, and a dog to eat the rare steak.”

(The authors are travel/food writers and culinary consultants “loosely based” in Bengaluru. They run a travel/media outfit customising solutions for the hospitality industry, have authored guides and coffee table books, set up an award-winning restaurant and feature as ‘Dude aur Deewani’ in a food-based digital infotainment show. Follow their adventures on Instagram: @red_scarab or their Facebook page Red Scarab.)

(Published 07 October 2023, 23:19 IST)

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