Some time ago, someone told me that I make drinking a snooty affair. Instead, I should concentrate on drinking. Well, I don’t think so. You don’t need to binge to have fun. All you need is the right drink for the right occasion and the right kind of people to share that moment with. There sure is a certain way of enjoying every drink that enhances the experience of the beverage. Drink wine in the right kind of glass and at the right temperature; stick to a pint of beer if you want to have it chilled and just as crisp as it was supposed to be… and don’t water down scotch, it wasn’t made to be drunk that way.
Talking of scotch, how many of us pay attention to a glass of the golden nectar? Or the fact that most of what we drink, which is labeled whisky or scotch, is produced in India, is not scotch. A whisky or scotch by definition is made from grain, not molasses; must be aged in oak barrels for not less than 3 years, preferably 12 years and the aging imparts the coloring, not any external substance. Molasses makes clear rum; add some caramel-based color and flavoring agents to it and you get your average Indian made whisky. And, by the way, it’s not scotch unless it was brewed, distilled and blended in Scotland, everything else is just a whisky.
Okay, so I scared you. Let me make it up. This isn’t the case with all whiskeys in India; only the cheapest you get in the market. As a rule of thumb, expect whiskeys under INR 1200 for a 750 ml bottle to use the abovementioned, inferior process. Whiskeys between INR 1200 – 2500 will largely be aged blends. The good stuff will mostly fall in the range INR 2500 and upwards.
I’ve had all sorts; the cheap, the expensive, the very expensive and the insanely expensive. Undoubtedly, they deserve the pomp and show associated with them, including the price tags. And through it all, I’ve come up with a personal rule. It can be a Japanese whisky for all I care (yes, they are crazy about the stuff and make some good ones too), but I’m not drinking it unless it is a 12 year old. Of course, like everything that must be Punjabi – the bigger, the better. So, I picked up a bottle of Black Dog 18 year old scotch.
According to Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch whisky evolved from a Scottish drink uisge beatha (Celtic for ‘water of life’). According to the tax rolls of the time, the earliest documented brewing and distillation of Scotch whisky occurred as long ago as 1494. If someone tells you, there’s nothing complex about scotch and all you have to do is chug it; they are so wrong. A good scotch is as complex as a good wine. Everything matters, the color, the aroma, the palate, the texture, the finish – everything.
Unlike wine, you don’t need to let whisky breathe. I do recommend a crystal, clear, heavy, old fashioned glass though. But I digress. So, the bottle was opened and a drink poured into a crystal, clear, heavy, old fashioned glass to let out the bouquet of aromas. The Black Dog 18 year old has a clear, bright, amber color to it. The nose is long with overtones of honeydew, peaches, ripe citrus fruits (which I think reminded me of grapefruit), cloves and toasted oak. The palate is sweet and smooth with undertones of honey, cinnamon, over ripe peaches and a lingering aftertaste of bitter dark chocolate, licorice and crushed bitter-sweet almonds with a long finish. The texture is smooth and viscous with well balanced acidity. You can tell that by holding up the glass at a slight angle and rotating it. The tears on the wall say it all.
It’s not just these features that make a scotch as complex as a wine. Believe it or not, there is a right way of drinking it too. Start with an old fashioned glass; google it if you don’t know what that is. There is no such thing as a 30 ml drink; so, don’t be shy and pour in the scotch. If you have the urge to add water or soda or cramming up the glass with ice, remember, you’re committing murder. Yes, it is that bad. Unless you are at a frat party and believe that the scotch will vanish unless you consume it, take it easy. Add two cubes, if you must and enjoy.
The Black Dog 18 year old is a blended scotch, not a single malt. Which means that the youngest scotch in the blend was aged in oak casks for 18 years. And trust me, at 18, this one is no longer a teenager. Priced at INR 8000 (ex Mumbai), it is definitely one of those things you must have if you appreciate luxury.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages, you can be smart or you can binge. So, be smart, drink smart. And trust me, it’s not a snob affair.