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India's high spirited class

entertainment Updated: Jan 23, 2011 01:00 IST

They’re wealthy, well-traveled, cosmopolitan and thirsty. India’s growing upper class wants high-end liquors and fine wines that define "the good life" they’ve seen on European vacations. The old habit of slinging a measure of cheap local rum into a cup of Cola simply won’t do.

"If we can afford the best, why not have it?" says Vikrant Nath, a 49-year-old event planner in Delhi. To share the spirit, Nath has booked a cocktail-mixing seminar at his three-storey home for about 25 friends, a well-heeled group of professionals.

DrinkingTulleeho Beverage Innovations, the organiser that held the cocktail seminar at Nath’s house, holds 15-20 such events in a month.

"People are becoming more discerning," says 26-year-old Rohan Jelkhie, a bartending instructor with Tulleeho.

There was a time when people would have anything they were given, but not anymore." Now, old local favourites such as Old Monk rum and Bagpiper whiskey share shelf space with world-class scotch from Johnny Walker and Macallan. The competition has forced Indian distilleries to up their game, and last year, the industry-standard "Whisky Bible" named an Indian whiskey, Amrut Single Malt, the world’s third best.

For a small but growing group of wine connoisseurs, there is an industry magazine, Sommelier India. Publisher Reva Singh says, "When I first started, I would have to write down the name of the magazine for people. No one knew!" she says at a wine-tasting event. "But I thought, none of these men know more about wine than me. There are still a lot of people who have a lot to learn."

Singh’s magazine, as a trade publication, is one of the few places alcohol companies are allowed to advertise in India.

The people attending Nath’s cocktail seminar are a clientele that has foreign alcohol companies very excited. "The people in this room are perfect for this," Tulleeho founder Vikram Achanta says. "They’ll go out and talk about the brand, and recommend it to their friends."

Giggling like kids in a science lab, the guests follow the trainer’s example, crushing ginger stems, squeezing limes and dropping ice into concoctions already swirling with spirits. When they are finally told to "give it a good, hard shake," their pink shakers become a rattling blur.

India’s rising spirit

According to the e-business network, International Wine & Spirit , India is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for spirits
Sommelier India, a liquor magazine, is one of the few places where alcohol companies are allowed to advertise in India
Tulleeho Beverage Innovations holds 15-20 wine seminars in Delhi in a month.
Amrut Single Malt, an Indian whiskey, was declared the world’s third best whiskey in 2010