On Saturday night, 129 of the world’s luckiest people and I gathered at the grand Leela Kempinski in Gurgaon. Lucky, because we were to taste some of the world’s finest whiskies over the next two hours at the Luxury Malt Experience presented by the hotel in association with The Legends of Scotland. For someone whose limits of critiquing tipple are reached by either expressing mazaa aaya or nahi aaya, it was an education.
After Michel Koopman, GM of the Leela Kempinksi (which deserves better than to be hidden away behind the Ambience Mall) and host of the evening welcomed those present, India’s principal authority on the subject, Sandeep Arora took over.
Mr Arora talked animatedly about whisky, bringing the audience up to speed on a history that is supposedly traced back to the year 1297. Pouring, pointing, shaking and demonstrating, he held court, explaining the tenets of tasting and judging whisky. Tilting the whisky and holding it to the light (Visual analysis), he told us how you can tell the age of whisky by its colour. Scotch, legally, cannot be bottled if the water, barley and yeast poured to prepare whisky have not been in the casket for at least 3 years. If you remove it then, the whisky would be clear and tasteless but still quite potent. The tag of Scotch that comes after this is like a Doctorate achieved at a young age, a maturing follows which sees the drink evolve exponentially.
As you swirl it in your glass and let it settle down, you see it leave trails, called Legs. The thinner the legs and the quicker the whisky runs down it, the younger the Scotch.
We learnt of the flavours that the aging unlocks in the Scotch, and were urged to detect those for ourselves. First, by smelling (Nose) before tasting because while the tongue can detect 5 flavours in 8 seconds, the nose can detect up to 264 variations in 5 seconds. Then, by tasting (Palate), swishing the Scotch in your mouth (Finish) and by diluting with water (Water) to open up more subtle variations in flavour.
20 years ago when whisky makers began taking results of survey filled in by sober people seriously, they learnt that Scotch was not perceived as ‘versatile’ or ‘palatable’. As a solution they sought to pair whiskies with foods based on their protein palates that they would compliment. So over a four course meal, we tasted four Scotch brands from the Black Dog kennel.
A Dalmore 12 accompanied the tangy entrées of wild mushroom parcels, poached shrimp with avocado timbale and homemade beef with cream cheese terrine. The strong Jura Superstition, named so for its 13 year old age livened up the potato and leek soup. Then came the fine Black Dog 18, in a bottle shaped like a decanter, tried with water and ice and adding zing to a main course of stuffed corn fed chicken, herb crusted Scottish salmon fillet and spinach and ricotta tortellini. The last Scotch was the most fascinating, the Black Dog 21 which began its journey when I was in kindergarten. 21 years spent in a cask which held Sherry for at least 30 years before that gives it a reddish hue and a pleasant taste to go with dessert.
I get further notice of my privilege from Mr Arora as he signs off, only 3540 caskets each of Black Dog 18 and Black Dog 21 were ever brewed. What I had tasted was some of the finest, rarest and most expensive Scotch in the world. Like I said in the beginning, we were 130 of the luckiest people in the world.
Article by - Monish Moorthy
Photos by - Kanishk Jain