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The Good Life

Liquid Gold
There are whiskies and cognacs that are hidden away by luxury hotels, for they are so rare and cannot be frittered away

Debangana Ghosh

Raising a toast with these limited edition wines and whiskies is once-in-a-lifetime moment for many. Not just because these spirits are rare, but also because a peg or a glass can fetch unbelievable prices.

Indian five-star bars carefully curate their bottles from across the globe, flying their buyers to auctions and private collections, to get the best at your dinner table. Here are a few that can jazz up any New Year celebration.

The most coveted among cognacs in India is the Remy Martin Louis XIII Black Pearl served at The Library lounge bar at The Leela Palace, Delhi. “This bottle is from the last barrel from which only three bottles were bottled — one of them came to Asia, which is with us,” says Atul Tiwari, sommelier and assistant manager (food and beverage), The Leela Palace, New Delhi. “These are the last ones from the cask 786, which was selected as the best. It is a blend of 1,200 different cognacs fermented for over 100 years, making it a very rare cognac. Once in a decade, they open a barrel and bottle it,” says. A 30 ml peg of this drink costs 125,000 plus taxes.

The other prized possession of the bar is a whisky, The Last Drop 1960. At present, it is found in only two to three hotels in the country. Tiwari adds, “It is the most expensive whisky in India, aged since 1960.” A 30 ml peg of this is priced at 50,000 plus taxes.

Not many know this, but these bottles occupy place of pride on the shelves and hoteliers are not really keen on selling or serving them. Tiwari explains, “For instance, the Louis XIII Black Pearl was curated from an auction in 2011 and now we are just left with half a bottle. These are not a part of our menu although, of course, we talk about it with our guests. It’s only during special occasions, when the guest themselves come seeking the drink, that we have to serve them. Now, we are very careful about the little left in the bottle because we don’t want to display an empty bottle on our shelf.”

Another bar belonging to the ITC group, which has over the years achieved distinction as among the best bars in the country, is The Cheroot - Malt & Cigar Lounge at ITC Grand Chola, Chennai. The bar serves Laphroaig 1970, a vintage drink bottled in 1986 for Italian importer Silvano Samaroli, priced at 80,000 for a 30 ml peg plus taxes. Anil Chadha, vice president south, ITC Hotels & general manager ITC Grand Chola, describes his first experience of tasting/nosing the drink: “The nose is much fruitier, with crisp notes of fresh and juicy pineapple and ripe oranges, mango and vanilla. The peat is discreet, but the medicinal notes are always present in the background, as well as the maritime scents. It also has a superb minerality that is growing in the second nose.”

The Blue Bar at Taj Palace, New Delhi too boasts of an exquisite collection of limited edition whiskies. Among the most exclusive, they claim, is The John Walker. “It is a befitting tribute to their founder. It is a carefully crafted blend of select whiskies that were known to John Walker. With only nine select distilleries contributing to this fine blend, the production is restricted only to a handful of bottles every year,” says a spokesperson at Taj Hotels.

The heritage 100-year-old cask, in which the whisky is kept to age, helps it gain a unique, opulent body, making it one-of-a-kind. This limited edition whisky comes in a handcrafted Baccarat crystal decanter accentuated with a 24-carat gold-plated neck. To add to opulence, the decanter is encased within a lacquered cabinet. At The Blue Bar, The John Walker is served in a handcrafted crystal old-fashioned glass. A 750 ml bottle of the drink costs around 712,500 plus taxes.

There is a “liquid gold rush” to obtain one of these bottles, says Chadha. He explains, “A rising number of rich Indians are lapping up rare whisky bottles and they resist drinking them as special single malts have become a popular investment avenue and their collection a global craze. Being limited editions, they become an expression of indulgence among high net worth individuals who appreciate such brands.”

It is interesting how the proverb the rare the better is catching on, as an ever-expanding pool of money is chasing an ever-diminishing variety of drinks.

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