Bottled in India under a brand name exclusively created by Indian entrepreneur Sameer Mahendru, #nso (signifying the circle of life) is a fruity-smokey dram, which works well in long drinks or on ice.
These last two years when the nation has been busy fighting a pandemic, we all discovered a newfound joy in discovering Indian brands for home consumption. While we will continue to hate the pandemic for all it has done, we still have to acknowledge that some changes it has brought about are only for the better. For example, this piece is coming to you part from the beaches and part from my home in the hills.
All this travel has meant having to cart my minibar around everywhere. While that is not the most convenient thing to do, it does allow me to try what I truly wish to. And I am proud to say that in the last year, a clear majority of all that I have efficiently filtered through my kidneys has been largely homegrown stuff.
While a lot of it was gin, recently, my attention was drawn to whisky brands, which are also getting active in the space. For the longest time, it seemed like whisky had fallen off the popularity charts and while it would still lead all spirits by a long shot, it may never show much growth. Almost as if on cue, I ran into a whole new selection of brands, all of which were made with premium raw material and yet were priced well—in that aspirational-yet-affordable category.
For the longest time, my problem had been that I had two kinds of whiskies at home. There was the sacramental stuff, which I had only on special occasions, sipping slowly, on ice or maybe a splash of water, but never drowned in soda or cola. For such ‘blasphemies’, I had the other category, a plethora of bottles, which only tasted okay if their core gag reflex-inducing tastes were somehow diluted and muted with sugary mixers. This was also the lot often reserved for my lesser friends and, let’s just call it, “unofficial gifting to high-ranking officials”.
But now, this new range was hitting the sweet spot, good to be enjoyed as malts, but equally great in blends and highballs. That is what I meant by aspirational-yet-affordable. So without further ado, here they are.
Named in the honour of the famous Dutch sailor Williem Barrents (who tried to find a way to Asia from Europe via the north-eastern route, thus lending his name— also— to the Barents sea), Barents Premium Gold Reserve, a blended whisky, is similarly exploratory and rewards the curious palate. It’s a soft spirit right from the start, nothing too heady or explosive. The subtle nose is followed by an equally gentle palate: fruity, smooth, hints of nuts and caramel. It’s an easy sip, one that is distinct, but more than willing to commit to a mixed drink.
Oaksmith, a tasty little number, is like an album unto itself. It’s like the “Best of…” collection of all the top artists of the world. Take whiskies from Scotland, the US and India, blend them together and you will get this rich blend. No less than world-renowned blender Shinji Fukuyo (chief blender, Suntory) applied himself to this, even touring small-town Indian bars, spending time there, tasting their snacks, all to get a better understanding of the drinking culture here. The final result is a lovely blend that’s equal parts Indian yet international.
The world is looking to Japan and Enso Japanese Whisky is a good representative for the category. Bottled in India under a brand name exclusively created by Indian entrepreneur Sameer Mahendru, #nso (signifying the circle of life) is a fruity-smokey dram, which works well in long drinks or on ice. It’s premium by Indian pricing standards, but as Japanese whiskies go, it’s a steal. Available almost across India.
I tried all the above drams neat, on ice and made into highballs. None of them disappointed in any version. Or maybe I was too sot to care. Either way, it was a good Monday morning.
The writer is a sommelier