RECENTLY, I attended the Spirits Selection competition conducted by the organisers of the world-renowned Concours Mondial de Bruxelles international wine competition. The venue was China and what made it extremely special and prestigious for me was the fact that I was the only Indian heading a jury panel.
My fellow judges and I were on a mission to find the best spirits from around the world in every category. The days were long and the flights extensive, but we managed to cover practically every spirit imaginable—from Peruvian Pisco to Chinese Baijiu, from Scottish malts to exotic liqueurs from around the world. And all through this, we maintained a very focused decorum to ensure that no good spirit worthy of a sip went unrewarded.
The results came out this week and Indian malts performed fairly well with both variants from the houses of Amrut and Paul John bagging a gold medal each and three variants from Paul John also managing to win silver. I know that there was also Janus, the new brandy by Sula, in the competition, but I don’t think it won anything. Without comparing malts to brandies, the medal tally just goes to show that while one of India’s most popular drinking brands is blissfully mired in mediocrity, the lesser-known brands are trying hard and thereby putting out some much superior produce, the kind that is getting us international attention.
But small speculations aside, the gold medals show a sign of things to come—whiskey is no more a Scottish domain. In fact, with a Japanese malt having been rated the best in the world earlier this year, it has served to show that while the Scots are good at their craft, they are not the only ones. The Suntory brand has been around since long and its perseverance and dedication is finally showing. Personally, I believe that Japan has always made great whiskey, but the recognition now has (a) brought them international coverage and (b) made them a lot rarer and dearer—much to my chagrin.
But if one looks at the medal tally, not just India, but other countries, too, are shining with their malts. From Taiwan to France, Italy to South America, many countries are gradually getting behind this liquid gold. Both the production and popularity are rising, as also the overall quality.
Given this rising demand, it is certain that there just won’t be enough Scottish whiskey to pass around. And like with most refined beverages, when the demand rises, it takes a long time to bring up the supplies. In light of this, other countries will pitch in to fill the void. Ten years ageing is, after all, 10 years of patient waiting. But in tropical countries, the same (or so they claim) ageing results are achieved in a shorter period, say, three-four years. As a result, they can churn out more liquid faster. While I may not believe this entirely, I can’t refute the fact that they definitely do have some advantage here.
Recently, I attended a tasting of Chivas 18 and I think it would be wrong to assume that Scotland has lost any of its knack for making some of the most memorable drams the world has ever known. What has possibly changed is that people are willing to experiment to allow for more variations of taste and flavour. And, most importantly, they are ready to go to any lengths to feed an insatiable curiosity. In that vein, the rise of new world whiskies is inevitable.
So brace yourselves for a fun ride, as whiskies turn up from all over the world. My recent trip to Hong Kong introduced me to an Icelandic malt and another from Scotland’s neighbour England!
Now, to wait and see if the world’s best-selling spirit, Officer’s Choice, could perhaps one day be awarded a gold or grand gold at Spirits Selection. Maybe then we could have another star for foreign markets from Indian vats.
The writer is a sommelier