I didn’t know there was actually a World Whiskey Day until I was square in the middle of it! Going by the kind of loving Moms and Pas get on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I am sure all whiskies get a generous measure of loving on Whiskey Day… maybe that IS the point! But then again in India, like all the other ‘(Your relative’s) Days, Whiskey Day is not that big a deal really, because the truth is we are a nation of both relationships and whiskey lovers, sometimes more the latter than the former! 😉
Here’s something to prove my point… Let me take you to an elegant evening at Westin Garden City in Mumbai last week. Some of the biggest whiskey aficionados of the city had gathered at the swish, breezy poolside to celebrate the journey of single malt whiskies at a very exclusive dinner. No occasion. No calendar ‘day‘. Just the fact that the finesse, dedication and craftsmanship that goes into these distinguished man-made creations need to be applauded and appreciated. And so there we were, a coterie of about 2 dozen whiskey enthusiasts (Suneeta Sodhi Kanga, Antoine Lewis, Shilpa Chawla, Sameer Malkani, Ekta Manning, Dalip Tahil, among others) on a journey to explore Scotland’s stark highlands and verdant valleys through its celebrated whiskies, with barrelfuls of trivia and intriguing history thrown in at every step by the witty and well-informed Nick Ord of Diageo Reserve Spirits.
That this was no ordinary whiskey tasting session was evident right from the start with sparkling-wine welcomes, unique bar crunchies (loved the crisp n spicy, coated hazelnuts), and an open-air table setting. But once seated at the plush tables with personalised place cards and gleaming silverware, we knew something special was afoot. And that was a full, five-course dinner, specially crafted and painstakingly paired with single malts, just for that evening, just for us! Each course had gone through several iterations in the Westin kitchens, under the hawk-eye supervision of Executive Chef Rahul Dhavale and General Manager Ashish Rai. ‘Every component of each dish has been carefully selected to blend together, to not only match, but complement, even flatter, the malt whiskey it is being paired with’, Ashish revealed with a smile, signalling a top-up of my crystal glass of Caol Ila, the 12-year aged Scotch from misty Islay that I absolutely fell in love with.
The result of this ‘several-weeks-long’ exercise unravelled before us languidly, the first course of Asparagus and Fresh Burrata hitting the spot nicely with the Glenkinchie for company. The second course of Stuffed Kashmiri Morels with its beautiful umame taste was a bit of a head-scratcher. What was the stuffing made of – White mushrooms? Cauliflower? Couscous? The mystery remained unsolved even while conversations raged on about unusual stuffed dishes, like the Parinde mein Parinda (‘Bird inside Bird’, an intriguing Mughlai dish that has a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a quail, and an egg in the centre of it all!) Only much later, it was revealed that the meaty, heady Morels were stuffed with the simple, humble ‘broken wheat’, or ‘Daliya‘, creating that perfect match. What a genius idea!
The next course was the Seared Scallops wrapped in Prosciutto, and even though I am unapologetically partial to scallops, I will still stick my neck out and say this was the dish of the evening, and raise a toast to the long-lasting marriage of this beautiful, salty bride with her handsome smoking, seafaring groom, the Talisker 😉
It is not easy to hold a candle up to the intense flavours of the grand, aged Lagavulin, and the main of Australian Lamb Loin with Risotto only moderately managed to do so. But out came the picture-perfect last course of Mignardises, and everything else was forgotten. A dessert that is every bit as delightful to eat as its name, the charming jewel-like bites of chocolate desserts served on a patterned glass-plate made us exclaim in wonder and sigh in contentment, making it the perfect finish with the fruity Singleton.
So you see… We, the people, can’t help but get emotional when it comes to relationships, and food… and stories that weave around both! And because we are a nation that loves to celebrate everything around us, this journey of malts that is now a centuries-old folklore is just another reason (excuse?) for us to celebrate. Without an occasion. Without a calendar ‘day’. Cheers to that!