Ken Grier, a charming Scotsman, could talk about whisky all day. Luckily for him, his job as director of malts for The Edrington Group allows him to sample some of Scotland’s best scotches. Recently, when he was in New Delhi for the International Herald Tribune Luxury Conference, Grier launched a series of ‘Fine and Rare’ whiskys from the Macallan line, all bottled sometime between 1926 and 1976. These rare collectable vintages had an Indian star: the 1947 vintage, bottled the same year as Independence. Over coffee (not Macallan, sadly), Grier sat down with Lounge to talk whisky. Edited excerpts:
Why does whisky appeal to the Indian consumer?
Ken Grier, director of Malts, The Edrington Group, shows a limited edition Macallan whisky bottled in 1947.
Whisky is emotional. Transitioning people from beers and white spirits into drinking darker spirits is remarkably easy in India. People tend to start out with beer or white spirits, but there seems a greater willingness to try dark spirits here.
How do you market a luxury product in the downturn?
I call it “logical” luxury. People will be looking for a rational point of difference. Rather than just spending money on anything, they will really be studying their purchases for something that is worth spending more money on.
Does it matter what year the whisky is brewed in?
We aim for consistency in our products. The man in charge of our whisky, Bob Delgado, tests every single cask—and we have 70,000-80,000 casks—to make sure the quality is the same. But there are small differences. For example, in 1947, it was right after World War Ii and cork had been used throughout the war in the construction of boats and planes, which led to a cork shortage. So we had to bottle our whiskeys with peat. The 1947 vintage is one of the last examples of peated whiskey. It becomes a chocolate/orange/vanilla product. It’s also kind of drinking history. This whisky has a great association with India because of it being from the year of its Independence. There are only 31 vintage years left in our collection. A bottle from 1926 just sold for $76,000 (around Rs38 lakh).
Should you add water to the whisky?
Whisky is all about how you like it. It’s subjective. I like it in a big glass packed with rocks. My wife used to drink Macallan 18 with Diet Coke. She’s seen the light, thankfully, and now she drinks it with a bit of water. Really, the difference between whisky straight and whisky with water all comes down to the molecular level. The flavour molecules cluster together in suspension. When you add water, it releases the flavour. Much like fragrance or perfume, it’s the difference between eau de cologne and straight perfume. Some people like the effect of releasing the flavour more quickly. Others don’t.
How should you taste whisky?
Use a tumbler or a tulip glass. A tulip glass will help keep the nose in. Take it at a 45-degree angle and hold it up to the light and slowly twist the glass. First, look at the colour and check to make sure there is nothing in it. Then, look at the legs, or the tears, that fall down the side of the glass. The longer it takes the tears to drop, the better the quality of the whisky. Then take three sniffs. The first sniff will burn the alcohol away and get your nose accustomed to the smell. With the second sniff, you’ll get the high volitiles, the floral notes. And the third sniff, get your nose right into the glass and take a deep inhale—that’ll get you the integrated notes. Then, take a sip. With wine, you aerate the liquid by breathing through your teeth after taking a sip. With whisky, you take it into your mouth and then chew it. Don’t let air in, but cover your whole mouth with the whisky, so every flavour receptor in your mouth will be touched. Coat your entire mouth with it. Then swallow and wait for the finish. If it’s good whisky, the taste should linger in your mouth.
What are some whisky cocktails you’d recommend?
The Game Bird: Take a rocks glass, fill it with ice. Then pour in a measure of Famous Grouse and good sparkling apple juice. If you don’t have sparkling apple juice, you can use regular juice and add soda water. Then top it off with a slice of apple.
The Ginger Grouse: Roll a lime to get the flavours out. Then cut it into quarters. Squeeze the lime into a high ball and throw the quarters into the glass. Then pour a big measure of Famous Grouse. Pack the glass with ice and top it with ginger beer. It’s fiery and spicy and citrusy. I could do with one right now!