Whisky/Whiskeys, Cognacs, Vodkas, Gins & Cigars…. When I was introduced to all that is found in the bars via masterclasses, events, reviews and tasting sessions
1. Whisky or Whiskey
Different countries, different spelling but the liquor remains the same. The easiest way to remember this, as per https://craftybartending.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Content-Upgrade-Different-Types-of-Liquor.pdf, countries which have the letter e, spell it as whiskey—that is Ireland and America. Countries without an e in their name, spell whisky without the e such as Japan, Scotland, Canada and Australia. Then there are different kinds of whiskeys—Scotch, Bourbon, American Rye Whiskey.
Whisky/Whiskey is distilled from fermented grains and matured in wooden barrels. The wooden barrels impart the flavours, aromas and colour. Scotch must come from Scotland and is made from malted barley. It must be matured in wooden barrels in Scotland for at least three years. Irish whiskey comes from Ireland and is made from malted or unmalted barley. Bourbon must contain a minimum of 51% corn and be aged in new charred-oak barrels. American Rye Whiskey must contain a minimum of 51% rye and be kept in new charred oak barrels for some time.
a. Masterclass With Jeff Arnett
I got a chance to attend this while he was master distiller with Jack Daniel’s and on his first visit to India in 2019 (he has recently stepped down from this position). In 2017, Whisky Magazine named him “Master Distiller of the Year”.
Among the oldest distilleries in the USA (1866), Tennesse-based Jack Daniel Distillery is the first registered distillery there and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Touching upon the history and legacy of Jack Daniel’s, Arnett gave an insight on the founder. “Jack didn’t know he was going to make this a huge company. He simply wanted to have a livelihood,” said Arnett.
Highlighting the key differences between Scotch and Bourbon, Arnett explained the process as well. Jack Daniel’s is dripped slowly through 10 feet of firmly packed charcoal before going into new charred oak barrels for maturing. This special step of charcoal mellowing makes Jack Daniel’s a Tennessee Whiskey. Care is taken to maintain an ecological balance and trees are constantly planted by the company. Each barrel lasts for 60 years and the water comes a cave spring which means it is absolutely fresh. The grains used are of good quality and the company has a tie-up with the University of Tennessee for research and development.
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 has been awarded seven international gold medals, including the “world’s best whiskey” award collected by Jack Daniel himself at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. A well-rounded and balanced medium amber whiskey, it has a pleasant mix of caramel, vanilla and wood notes. I found it a hard drink, very much a man’s taste.
Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack: During his lifetime, Jack Daniel tried his hand at charcoal mellowing his whiskey twice to heighten the benefits imparted by hard sugar maple charcoal. Based on this, the Distillery introduced this whiskey in 1988. Charcoal mellowed twice, once before and once after aging, it has caramel and fruit (black currant and mandarin) notes, laced with vanilla and smoke.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel is as individual as it can be. Depending on the oak wood from barrel to barrel, the bottles drawn offer subtle differences in nose, colour and taste. A dark amber single barrel whiskey, it rests in the upper floors of the warehouses where the whiskey’s colour and taste deepen and mature an extra measure. The result is a bold full-bodied whiskey with heightened flavours of toasted oak, vanilla and caramel.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey was personally developed by Arnett and introduced in 2011. Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 is mingled with a proprietary honey liqueur resulting in a unique, smooth offering. The flavour characteristics of honey complement Jack Daniel’s uniquely smooth charcoal-mellowed character. It can be served chilled straight or in drinks with other mixers like lemonade, tea or ginger ale.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire isa finely crafted, red-hot cinnamon spirit, crafted by mixing Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and cinnamon liquor. The result is a sweet and fiery kick. This is the distillery’s second flavour variation and I loved it!
b. Event: Great American Whiskey Experience
This was organized by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and hosted by Hon’ble Ambassador Kathleen Stephens at Roosevelt House, Embassy of the United States, Chanakyapuri, Delhi. The programme was also supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Shatbhi Basu, India’s revolutionary lady mixologist was then the American Whiskey Ambassador in India. The talk by the Distilled Spirits Council Senior Vice President Frank Coleman was an education on the heritage and kinds of whiskeys the US produces. There are two primary types—Bourbon and Tennessee—and both have their own distinct flavours. Moreover these whiskeys can be used for making some great cocktails, as we discovered at the end.
His talk was laced with things about Kentucky, blue limestone and eventually turned to blue grass which good for the horses there. It finally brought us to the American Whiskey Trail. The Trail went through the colonial era, where Whiskey had an important economic and social function in the community, going on to the Whiskey Rebellion, through Prohibition and into modern times. The Gateway to the American Whiskey Trail is the reconstructed George Washington’s Distillery at Historic Mount Vernon (VA).This is the only site in North America that can demonstrate 18th-century distilling from seed to barrel. There are many more historical sites such as Fraunces Tavern, Gadsby’s Tavern, West Overton, Woodville Plantation, Oscar Getz.
How To Taste
- Swirl the whiskey
- Smell it, better if you do it with your mouth open
- Add a little water
- Slowly sip it, swirling it inside the mouth, letting it leave its flavour.
That evening, I loved the Jim Beam Black Label, nice and strong. Most loved the more preferred Jack Daniels Silver Select which had a kind of spicy vanilla flavour. The Bulleit Rye had a freer, lighter flavour; Makers Mark sweeter and softer and I would let the men go for Woodford Reserve.
c. Event: The Glenlevit Soiree
There’s always a story behind every thing that survives time. And the intense story of this local dram which became a legendary drink comes from the smuggler-ridden valley of smooth flowing River Livet. Once upon a time this remote glen in Scotland was famous for its illegal whisky trade and distilleries. Until the arrival of King George IV in 1822 who asked for a taste of this whisky. And the rest is history, entrepreneur George Smith saw an opportunity and obtained a license for a distillery. This was set up close to Josie’s Well, a natural spring. Since 1824, the whisky has gone through gunfire, fire, licensing and patenting issues until it became The Glenlivet.
We experienced it with Brand Ambassador Alex Robertson in Delhi. It was a soirée with a blend of poetry, harp music and Robertson in his traditional dress—very Scottish. While renowned author Vikram Seth recited poems from his latest book, we sipped The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, The Glenlivet 15 and The Glenlivet 18 paired with some good dishes. With Founder’s Reserve (INR 4,750-6,800 per 75 cl bottle), The Glenlivet house style is skillfully complemented with creaminess and sweetness from the addition of First Fill American oak casks. Founder’s Reserve has been developed by Master Distiller, Alan Winchester and has a balanced smooth and fruity flavour.
Robertson pointed out that there’s no single correct way of tasting single malts. While some swirl, other sip, yet others gulp. But if you wait a second and breathe in the aromas, you can sense the notes and feel them glide down your mouth. I would say sip it slowly and let the smoothness roll in your mouth. Some might like to add a little bit of water too. But this one is best enjoyed on the rocks.
- With Founder’s Reserve, The Glenlivet house style is skilfully complemented with creaminess and sweetness from the addition of First Fill American oak casks. Founder’s Reserve has been developed by Master Distiller Alan Winchester and has a balanced smooth and fruity flavour.
Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: Delicate aromas of citrus fruit, notably sweet orange.
Palate: Sweet, fruit notes of zesty oranges and pears, with a hint of candy, toffee apples
Finish: Long, creamy and smooth
This is a kind of brandy, and called eau de vie after the distillation and during the aging process. It is made by twice distilling white wines.
Treasure Hunt Event: When the search for the oldest Louis XIII bottle was on. It goes back 140 years.
In 2015, the quest for the unique and oldest decanter of Louis XIII, called the king of cognacs, from the house of Rémy Cointreau began. It began from the South-East Asia region, namely India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Phillipines. The first Louis XIII found its way in a treasured decanter in 1874. Louis XIII reached the US in 1876. What most of us didn’t know that Louis XIII set foot on the shores of Singapore, Kolkata and Penang in 1881 and by 1883 it had reached Manila. It is said 45 cases landed in Kolkata, ordered by the Maharajas of Rajasthan and merchants from Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata.
With its complex blend of 1,200 eaux-de-vie, this is enjoyed by a select few. I was one of the few who tasted it at The Oberoi, Gurugram. This is also drunk in special glasses. You smell it from far, its heady and strong. And then you sip it slowly. Breaking the traditional myth of having it with warm water, Christophe Bourrie, Regional Director (SEA, India and Middle East), said, “mixed with tonic water, it makes for a refreshing summer drink.”
Coming to the history, the 24-carat gold neck decanter has gone through only four to five changes in 140 years. And there is a library which shows these changes. “This Quest is not a race against time, it is time itself that we are after,” said Marie-Amélie Jacquet, Financial Planning and Analysis Manager, Global Travel Retail Division Rémy Cointreau, who is also the fourth generation of the family. The House of Remy Cointreau is hopeful of finding at least 250 bottles. #QuestforaLegend and #LOUISXIII
House of Remy Cointreau and Louis XIII
The House of Remy Cointreau was established in 1724. Launched by Paul Émile Rémy Martin, the famous Louis XIII crystal decanter was inspired by a metal flask lost in 1569 on the battlefield of Jarnac. It was found some 300 years later near the vines of Cognac. The blend of precious 1,200 eaux-de-vie, the king of cognacs is aged from 40 up to 100 years. Presented at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900, the King of Cognac traveled on the maiden journey of the celebrated Orient Express and the luxury ocean liner Normandie bound for the United States. Since the late 19th century, it has been the choice at royal courts of India, Tsar of Russia, in the Court of Siam.
Who doesn’t know the famous Gin & Tonic (G&T)? But not many know that this distilled alcoholic drink, made from juniper berries, actually was a medicinal drink made by monks in Italy, around the 13-14th centuries. Later, other monks and alchemists across Europe, particularly Southern France, Flanders and the Netherlands, made aqua vita from distillates of grapes and grains.Today, it is made with botanical/herbal, spice, floral or fruit-flavours or often a combination.It is also often used as a base spirit to produce flavoured gin-based liqueurs. While I have never really seen the labels before sipping my G&T, I did get to enjoy the famous Hendrick’s at an event.
So, we got to have a sip with the original gin with rose and cucumber and a dose of fortune telling. Not only is the gin light and fresh, the bottle is a collector’s item. Under the supervision of Master Distiller Lesley Gracie, each batch of HENDRICK’S GIN is crafted just 500 lovely litres at a time. It is how HENDRICK’S GIN started in 1999. It is distilled in not one but two utterly dissimilar sorts of still. The two leaders of this particular ensemble of stills are the Bennett, an antique copper pot dating right back to 1860, and the Carter-Head, hailing from 1948 (of which only a few exist today). Browse through their site to get recipe cocktails and an amazing visual experience.
Vodka is a distilled drink composed of water and ethanol. Vodka is made by the distillation of fermented cereal grains or potatoes; some brands use fruit and sugar too. Vodka is traditionally drunk neat! It is often served chilled in countries such as Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, better known as vodka-belt countries. Cocktails which sport vodka are Cosmopolitan, Screwdriver, Greyhound, Black or White Russian and Bloody Mary. There are many brands in the market, and I tried an Indian one too.
Review of Blue Eyes Vodka by Punjab-based Rock and Storm Distilleries (INR 400 for a 750 ml bottle). The bottle is a smooth one with the royal blue eye. And I tried both variants–Classic and Green Apple. My verdict: Keep the quantity a little less, as it stronger than the other vodkas available in the Indian market. It’s important to be a responsible and not a rash drinker. No lingering smell and freshness in taste, it can be used in many cocktails.
You could be innovative and lace it with fruit pulps and even add chaat masala. It can be mixed with cucumber, mint, lime and green tea too. It is pure grain-based vodka with 42.8% V/V and 72% proof.
5. Event: Marriage of Cigaro by Cigar Conexion
The marriage of cigar with single malt was an experience hosted by Rocky Patel Premium Cigars Inc. This $30 million was begun by Rocky Patel over 10 years back. An entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, Patel also owns tobacco plantations in Honduras and Nicargua. “Cuba is the place known for cigars. But my cigars are made in Honduras and Nicargua. And people of Latin descent and Cubans are cigar makers. Everyone thought I was crazy when I wanted to get into this business. We even have a cigar lounge in Naples, Florida, which has live music, and the architecture is a mixture of the palaces of Udaipur, Moroccan, Asian influences,” says Patel.
Cigars are not like cigarettes. The tobacco has been fermented for almost five years before it is rolled into a cigar. They are literally born over generations as it takes four to five years to make a cigar, from the seedlings to the final product is work all done by hand. Cigars have different flavours such as nutty, pepper, caramel, full bodied, smooth, light and more. You don’t inhale the tobacco like a cigarette. Depending on the quality, it could be anything between Rs 500-5,000. Pairing: most have it with whiskey, but some like with red wine too.