IN THE DIM LIGHT OF THE SEASONED LIVING ROOM sat the grownups. Each cradled a cut crystal Glencairn glass in their palms, with gravitas. At the bottom of each glass, glowed a smidge of amber. One day soon, we promised ourselves, we too would lay claim to it. Sepia-tinted memories of our first sighting of the water of life, confirm that even four-year-olds can sense the aura of whisky that has been aged for at least as long as themselves.
First encounters are altogether a different matter. Indeed a landmark coming-of-age moment is realising with a grimace that whisky is nothing if not an acquired taste. Harder still is a convincing shot at whisky appreciation - think again before taking up the gauntlet of blind tasting. A quiz is a better bet. Try this: Did you know that many Indian whiskeys are technically rums, since they're made from molasses and not grain. Or that more than half the world's top ten fastest growing whisky brands today are Indian?
Notwithstanding the national appetite for the drink, it remains an import, although one of the select that won a strong local following. It was the English officer's sundowner of choice in India, and had the distinction of being the only European spirit that found favour with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Well before we got our first railway line, we had a brewery and distillery in place thanks to an Edward Dyer who brought over the distilling equipment straight from England and Scotland. Scotland and Ireland both lay claim to being the formal birthplace of whisky (with Scotland having more to show for it). That's why Scotch will always have a certain ring to it, that can't quite be matched by any other whiskey. But if the proof is in the drinking, it has stiff competition from around the world – with distinguished whiskies being turned out by Japan, India, Canada and the US.
So how does one go about appreciating whiskey? For starters - by savouring it without feeling compelled to make premature pronouncements on notes of floral/fruity/peaty/pungent. Sniff it, roll it around in your mouth and develop your own informed impression - at the very least, make it original and imaginative. I’m certainly with the camp that recommends taking whiskey neat – no ice and certainly no mixers. Water (at room temperature) is an ally, but at the most a drop or two to release flavours.
Last of all - luxuriate over it, make it last, and learn. In this respect, the following two events can’t come at a better time. If you’re in Chennai, you have chance to take a malt trail which will serve as an enjoyable primer in the history of whisky, at ITC Grand Chola’s The Cheroot - Malt & Cigar Lounge. Over at Bengaluru’s Highland Nectar and Lotus Pavilion in ITC Gardenia, you can treat yourself to innovative whiskey based cocktails inspired by Ireland, Japan and Scotland.