Raise a toast: From Japanese whiskies to homegrown gins, some sips to end the year and beckon 2021 with a bang

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December 20, 2020 4:00 AM

Feel free to sprinkle some magic dust from 2019, as saying bye to 2020 will certainly need it. In case there isn't any left, try a selection from below.

Toki is a double exception, in that it is pocket-friendly and, for what it promises, delivers.

This is the last column before New Year festivities kick in. I say ‘festivities’ and I realise just how loosely I am applying the term. So please feel free to sprinkle some magic dust from 2019, as saying bye to 2020 will certainly need it. In case there isn’t any left, try a selection from below.

Toki Japanese Whisky: I am always wary of Japanese whiskies because they cost significantly more than Scotch and don’t always deliver. Toki is a double exception, in that it is pocket-friendly and, for what it promises, delivers. A gentle whisky, not too heady or rich on the flavours (more honey and apples with a touch of mint), but nowhere near harsh or lacking the roundness of the pedigree stuff. Considering it is a blend of whiskies originating from Suntory’s three star brands—Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita—that already endows it with some serious shelf cred. And that bottle aesthetic is so fine in all its simplicity. Think of it as a comprehensive sip that best represents the world of Japanese whiskies.

TERAI and Stranger & Sons: Two of my favourite homegrown gin brands and both are now available in Delhi shops. In fact, for the moment, TERAI is only available in Delhi, giving us some reason to rejoice—else, it’s always Goa and Mumbai that get to call dibs. While Stranger is a heady mix of spices and flavours, which can have a polarising effect on the first-time indulger, TERAI comes across as a fresher, lighter sip, with a deft blend of herby botanicals. But with these two, it’s not a case of either-or, just get both, for they are diametrically opposite in their flavour profiles and definitely have unique spaces on that home shelf.

Svami Non Alcoholic mixers: Anything non-alcoholic makes me question life decisions worse than reading Nietzsche. Well, Svami has managed to broach this category in a way that is not entirely unlikeable. The adverb I will use is ‘almost’. It almost tastes like a gin and tonic, almost like a rum and cola (with a strange bitterness on the back, which I couldn’t quite place). If you are used to the RealMcCoy, then this won’t tick that box. But they are good unto themselves, as in don’t think of them as emulating anything. They are a fun enjoyable add to the fizzy drinks options—I definitely like their brand of cola more than some popular ones out there (even if it’s not rum and cola replacement for me). That pink gin and tonic, however, was Turkish Delight-flavoured bubblegum juice and, for me and the group I made blind-taste these, missable.

Sepoy Elderflower & Hibiscus Tonic Waters: Speaking of mixers, Sepoy & Co launched the Elderflower and Hibiscus tonic waters. Now, I drink gin and tonics to taste the gin, so I am not always a fan of tonics, which can distract from it. So purist I remain in this sense, but again, as drinks unto themselves, these mixers were great. I can easily see someone chilling with a Hibiscus tonic without any need to dilute it with gin. The Elderflower flavour is always tricky to balance and, although handled rather well here, to me, it still feels somewhat overwhelming by the end of a serving.

Stryyk Not gin: This was part of my purchases from the last time I was in London and, frankly, it remains the best 0% category ‘liquors’ that I have tried. They taste true-to-styles and it felt nice back then to order them at a bar and simply say, “Two G&Ts but Stryyk (Strike) one please”, which is euphemistically a lot better than asking for a non-alcoholic gin at a bar! Sadly, it is yet to sell here locally.

Apart from this, I was privy to a very special tasting of French wines, which are looking to enter our markets. But given how the Delhi excise authorities have put up ridiculous entry barriers (high registration fees, high excise tax), all these new brands are headed to Gurugram or Mumbai, which are much more conducive to introducing quality products as opposed to the cheap quaffers that we have to contend with in Delhi. So when I light a candle of hope this NYE, it will be to wish that hopefully our archaic systems get a reboot and realise that a drink is the fastest and safest way around the world even as we stay safe and sanitised at home.

The writer is a sommelier

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