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The Good Life

Make that a double
Why there is a lot more to whisky than just soda

Nikhil Agarwal

Last night, I was thinking about what I would write for this article while I was with old friends drinking Caol Ila 12YO and smoking a Rocky Patel cigar. My brief was to write about whisky and I couldn’t but help think that this very moment was what whisky is all about, time with friends and family. It has always been a catalyst to some of the very best times I have had with them.

In my parents’ home, when we were growing up, there were parties almost every week. I remember that when the guests would leave, I would sneak into the hall and take sips of the leftover whisky from the glasses all over the bar. And that was my first time with this beautiful spirit. What I find interesting is how palates change: the whisky that my father enjoys is not up to the mark for me, while the whisky I like is not up to the mark for my younger brother. We all seem to want to trade up. In India, this phenomenon is everywhere, where drinking single malt or higher age statements seems to be the thing to do. At parties and weddings, the humble black is a choice and not the main attraction anymore. 

With the amount of money we fork up for a whisky at a restaurant or a hotel, we would be drinking some of the very best in any other part of the world. If and when the duties come down, we rise up the quality ladder in terms of consumption in a whisky second.

The world of whisky is actually going through a very interesting phase. The Scottish, the rulers of this world, continue to produce astonishing stuff. But even they could not imagine the surge in demand from Asian powerhouses and for a brief time until they are able to release the newly calibrated productions, we are going to see less of the age statements of whiskies that we normally consume. Some older age statements are now truly hard to come by and other whiskies from silent distilleries are now investment grade, with whisky funds vying for wealthy participants. This is not a bad investment as per my opinion. 

But the Scottish, for the first time, are being challenged at their own game. The Japanese, with their obsessive take on quality and craftsmanship, have come up with such stellar whiskies that they have immediately taken on the cult status. 

In India, we finally get to see some quality action with Amrut, a distillery based out of Bengaluru. One of its whiskies got voted third-best in the world. This created a buzz in India and internationally, as Amrut has put Indian whisky on the map. I wish we had more quality-oriented producers.

Speaking out of curiosity, it is astonishing how very few people in India know about whisky despite the quantities we so readily consume. What really affects me is how we drink our whisky. Most of us add so much water or soda or ice. I’m all for the ‘to each his own’ sort of a thought process but I really wish we would drink it neat with a dash of cold water, or maybe just a cube of ice, just to take it all in and enjoy those flavours and aromas and the sweet burn. Specially while drinking rare whiskies, you have got to do it right or you might as well save on some tosh and drink the cheap stuff. What’s good for you may not work for me and vice versa. Personally, there is only so much peat I can handle in a whisky, where for some people, the more the better. More expensive may not necessarily be better and older age statements don’t automatically mean that younger whiskies are inferior.

I’m going to urge everyone to try some Japanese whiskies such as Hibiki, Nikka and Yamazaki or Hakushu and from the US, Bulleit Rye whisky. I have also tried the Glendronach Parliament 21YO from Scotland and it was an amazing experience. Ardbeg 21YO is very rare but pure bliss. Green Spot from Ireland hits the spot as it tastes wonderful. 

I hope you recognise that drinking whisky or wine or anything for that matter when drinking the good stuff is admiring nature at its finest. All the ingredients used to make whisky are natural and it is human intellect that has had the vision to take these natural offerings and convert them into a drink. So, the next time you pick up your glass to sip on your favourite distillery, close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine the water source, the swaying barley, grain or rye, the weather, the sea and the forests from where the wood for the barrels came. Then imagine, what was going on in the world and in your life when this holy spirit was distilled say 12, 15 or more years ago. Whisky, my friends, is just so much more than your simple, everyday drink. 

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