George Bernard Shaw called it liquid sunshine; Haruki Murakami compared it to a beautiful woman that demands appreciation; Ernest Hemingway believed one should never delay opening a bottle of whisky and Bob Dylan took his love for the drink further by launching his own brand. The drink, clearly, has something in it that gets the poetry flowing.
It turns out, whisky is as much a muse to those on the other side of the bar counter. Mixologists Emily Thompson and Ernest Reid from Dewar’s, a brand of blended Scotch whisky owned by Bacardi, will spend over a year in different cities in India, showing people how the spirit makes not just poetry, but sensational cocktails as well.
As whisky ambassadors, they are looking to educate people, inspire them and create a buzz around the brand. “People are waking up to the possibilities of whisky… that there are numerous classic and modern ways to enjoy it,” says Emily. A classic whisky cocktail, to her, is something with not too many modifiers so that the original flavour is not lost.
Emily, who is known for her curation of themed cocktail menus and creative cocktails, has spent over five years bartending. She believes whisky is getting an image makeover. “I think that the new generation whisky drinker looks for variation and new ways to enjoy their favourite tipple. It’s no longer seen as the old-school scotch-on-rocks. Millennials have an incessant need for experimentation.”
Ernest agrees. “It is no secret that whisky drinking in India has a bit of an old man image attached to it, but it’s slowly moving away from that.” He is interested in finding out what the new generation whisky drinker is looking for. “There is a willingness to experiment and that is the important part,” he says. Ernest has been a bartender for eight years.
He believes that mixing drinks for the Indian palate would be fun. “Indians have a complex palate, which means they can take big and bold flavours, which are great to experiment with. Drinking whilst eating has an impact on the flavours in the cocktail. So I would want to use the scope of ingredients available locally in India, such as turmeric, cardamom and jaggery — but obviously twist the way these flavours are normally used, with my own style,” he says.
Emily, on the other hand, believes one has to understand the region, while mixing drinks in India. “When crafting a new drink in Delhi, I do tend to use modifiers like dried rich fruit and items on the sweeter side.”
Though quite a lot is happening in cocktails, the stuff that would always stay classic and current are flavours such as honey, vanilla, cherry, orange, and, of course, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. “The European trend of holistically pairing flavours found in the base spirit and highlighting them with teas, bitters and syrups, is catching on. I guess one of the most obvious trends of the past years are outlandish garnishes and this is because of the popularity of Instagram and other social media,” says Ernest.
The whisky drinker’s horizon is opening up. Sours are very much in vogue now. There is a huge pool of variations, such as the New York sour, to choose from.
When it comes to their own relationship with whisky, some scotches take Ernest back to memories of sprawling landscapes, open fireplaces and good times. For Emily, it is a friend she always has in her cabinet.