Ah, for the love of a dram! Whiskey now finds its audience in the millennia as clubs across the country find inventive ways to spread knowledge of the mind
Yes you’re Indian, you probably associate whiskey with uncles, duty-free shops, and frenzied wedding dinners.
India’s most popular alcohol, whiskey, has been considered a staple for older Indian men for decades. According to market research platform Statista, the average per capita whiskey consumption in India is 2.6 liters.
However, not all whiskeys are created equal. There are single malts, blended whiskeys, corn-based whiskey, rye whiskey and the rise of Indian single malt, led by Amrut, Paul John, Rampur and more recently Kamet who has won hearts in recent years. and awards around the world.
More diverse, even with the classics
As a younger and more diverse Indian drinking population tastes alcohol, it is undergoing a drastic reshaping of its image led by trendy whiskey clubs across the country.
At the Mumbai Dram Club, women who enjoy their malts are at the heart of the events. “For us, the co-founder, Swati Sharma, being a woman, has probably broken barriers,” says Vinayak Singh, co-founder of the club which started in March 2019. The group launched an app in 2021, with aggregated information on a cornucopia of whiskeys – from brand expressions to city price lists, personalized recommendations and ultimately a single malt and whiskey delivery platform, to generate revenue.
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With over 3,500 subscribers, the Dram Club offers free membership, with fees ranging from 2,000 to 5,500 per event, depending on the type of spirit, food and location of the event. Vinayak relishes the opportunity to conduct blind tastings: “We want members to look beyond the label, so that they can truly appreciate blended or other whiskeys that don’t come from any of the. sacred distilleries. Our members found they liked the Paul John better than some Scottish classics. We also like Kamet and Blue Label’s Ghost and Rare, a limited edition mix from Johnny Walker, ”he says.
Pooja Vir, who attends these events, agrees with Vinayak. “I started to enjoy whiskey during my stay in London. When I came back to India in 2017, I started a club called Whiskey Ladies of Mumbai, but two years ago I moved to the Dram Club. Events provide a way to taste really expensive bottles before investing in them. “
The East-West connection
- Alex Robertson (Head of International Graduate Program, Heritage and Education and Archives at Chivas Brothers, Glasgow, Scotland) who leads global advocacy for the Chivas Brothers Scotch Whiskey portfolio and a team of 60 international ambassadors and graduates in 30 country, talks about trends in the Indian whiskey market, “India is now influencing global whiskey trends and is in turn influenced by them. In fact, we have just chosen the first Indian female ambassador for our brand.
- He adds: “Indians, especially millennials, travel more, care about quality malts, and are drawn to expertise and experimentation. This is great news as we are now considering using casks of rum, cognac and tequila to finish single malts like Glenlivet, bringing a new understanding to the classic offerings of the distillery. As Glenlivet has become the choice for celebration, we find Ballantines, Chivas Regal and other blends very popular with our Indian consumers as well.
A rapidly changing landscape
The Single Malt Amateur Club (SMAC) in Bangalore has the particularity of working with Amrut and John Distilleries in India, to release exclusive bottles for club members, respectively Amrut Amaze and Cask No.6028. Offering free membership and a fee per event, the club was established in 2011 and now has over 4,000 members.
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“The landscape of whiskey appreciation has changed dramatically over the past three years, as evidenced by an increase in our membership of around 30% since 2019, with members predominantly in the 32-year-old age bracket. and more, ”said founder Hemanth Rao. As SMAC partners with Indian single malts to provide its members with exclusive offers, Hemanth says the provenance of quality Indian malts has helped increase the popularity of whiskeys. “Amrut and Paul John moved the needle and now there is a turn inward as the Indians embrace new malts.”
Explaining how they kept members engaged during the pandemic, he adds, “when we couldn’t replicate the joy of living From a live event, we hosted sessions on peripheral topics like the perfect glassware for single malts, whiskey auctions, industry trends and more.
Now, Hemanth presents members with their own blending experiences in custom American white oak aging barrels, in three and five liter capacities ranging from 13,000 to 17,000 and one can even choose from ex-rum casks or ex-port which lend the mixture a fruity character on the nose and in the mouth.
“Today Indians want to experiment and they enjoy their whiskeys very differently from their parents’ generation,” says Nikhil Agarwal, who runs experiments at All Things Nice, a luxury wine and spirits consultancy.
Master the basics
While most events are held in Mumbai, Agarwal, who teaches a Scotch Whiskey Fundamentals Course in association with the Edinburgh Whiskey Academy, also took his love and mind learning to Singapore and Hong Kong. . All Things Nice has even associated whiskey with poetry, music and art at events.
In 2019, All Things Nice hosted Jim Murray, whose Whiskey bible sets the gold standard for the best deals every year. At events held at renowned hotels in Delhi and Mumbai, attendees were treated to four blind whiskey tastings, paired with elaborate menus. “We hosted Malt Week in Mumbai, where we paired whiskey-tasting flights with Italian, Continental and Pan-Asian fare at 15 restaurants, including a six-course malt whiskey dinner at Le Masque with Chef Prateek Sadhu. ”
After the lockdowns, Agarwal had to find unique ways to engage audiences at home. A virtual evening of blues and whiskey saw blues band Wanted Yesterday perform their music repertoire while attendees savored The Glenlivet 15 and 18 as well as Scapa Glansa and Skiren. “We dissected the smoky, light and fruity notes of the malts and enjoyed them with a blues that amplified this style with a matching tempo, quite different from food and drink pairings. The event was very well received, ”says Agarwal, who speaks of equal participation of men and women in its events, for audiences aged 35 and over.
In Kolkata, the Calcutta Malt and Spirits Club has grown from a cozy 20-member club in 2010, which originally met at the Tata Steel Room on the premises of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, to a club that has now added more than two points to the fold, and meets in restaurants across town.
Subhasis Ganguli, one of the founding members, says, “We are a non-profit group. I lead the tasting with a bit of single malt history – region, age, character, cask style and flavor profiles. He adds that members choose different age expressions from brands like Inchmurrin, Tomatin or Spirits from Speyside in Scotland when traveling, or the Whiskey Exchange in London. With virtual events on the agenda for most of 2020, Deepavali marked a big comeback for the club. “We enjoyed a six-course Awadhi-style meal accompanied by five whiskeys,” says Ganguli.
The highlight of the club’s experience portfolio was a “smoke-based” tasting. Smoked malts accompanied the tandoori: the salty smoothness of the bacon complimented the Caol Ila. The lamb shanks paired well with the 14 year old Lagavulin, and the light touch of Oban paired well with the brackish notes of the smoked fish.
The Quorum, an expansive 22,000 square foot exclusive club in Gurgaon that hosts whiskey tasting sessions and dinners, has found imaginative ways to connect with members. Rachit Dang, Managing Director explains how the club – which stocks 69 variants of malts – conducted a blind tasting by sending members five transparent bottles (60 milliliters each), and asking them to rate the spirits from 0 to 5. depending on their nose, body, taste and finish.
“At the end of the tasting, our members were able to identify their affinity for Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, Canadian or Japanese whiskey,” he says.
The millennial consumer in India is leaving master distillers around the world optimistic about the prospects for premium malts in the country. Julieann Fernandes, Master Blender at Distell Group, based in South Africa, said: “Whiskey is starting to find favor with millennial drinkers in India who are rich, curious about taste, influenced by global trends and open to the experimentation. More experiential activation also helps boost traction among this younger generation – pop-up events, bar takeovers, tastings and DIY cocktail sessions.
Pooja Vir, who associates his favorite malts with memories, sums up his love for dram. “It’s an exciting time to be a whiskey connoisseur, as local malts are flourishing, people are open to experimentation, and brands are enhancing the experience for whiskey drinkers who want to look beyond the label. . “