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Swirl sniff sip

Charles MacLean tells Vidhi Bhargava how he hated drinking whisky when he was 16. Now he is an expert on the drink.

india Updated: Oct 23, 2008 18:43 IST
Vidhi Bhargava

Charles MacLean grew up hearing “If you aspire to be a man, you need to drink whisky”. But at 16 and after his first glass of whisky, he had second thoughts.. not about being a man but about whisky. “I absolutely hated it,” he laughs. But then, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do and he persisted. That’s history, because right now MacLean not only enjoys his whisky but is also an authority on it.

“You need practice and a lot of research,” adds the whisky expert who started writing about whisky in 1981 and has authored 10 books on the spirit. He is in the city to promote his new book, Water of Life, on Scotch whisky, published in association with Diageo and Talisker Single Malt whisky.

Balancing act
Scotland born MacLean believes that unlike lesser spirits like vodka, whisky is a complicated drink. “It’s an acquired taste and once you have a hang of it, it’s most satisfying,” he explains, adding, “A good Scotch should have a balance — an attractive aroma and a taste that lives up to the promise given by the nose. It should complement the smell. There should be no bitterness, just a sweetness, acidity and dryness. Each Scotch has a different finish.”

Single malts have emerged as one of the more fashionable drinks. While personally MacLean prefers blended whisky to unwind, single malts fascinate him. He says, “The wonderful thing about single malts is that though all whiskies use the same distillation process, each has a unique taste. Like the Talisker has a unique spicy, chilli, pepper finish.”

He also informs that in the last 20 years, the consumption of single malt whisky has increased 10 times in volume, so much so that there has been a global shortage of malt whisky. “But this goes beyond just fashion because at the end of the day it’s the flavours that makes drinking whisky rewarding,” the whiskey aficionado states.

MacLean even offers a few tips to enjoy single malts. “The glass you choose is important. A glass with a bowl and a narrow rim that takes the aroma directly to the nose is best suited. Avoid tumblers,” he advises.

Ice is not nice
“Add a splash of water, which releases the aroma. On the rocks is good when you just want to drink but ice reduces the aroma, making it difficult to appreciate the whisky. Swirl it and then nose it,” MacLean says.

His personal favourite is Johnny Walker Black, which is extremely popular in India. It is a combination 14 blends from different distilleries. Indians love whisky and MacLean doesn’t deny this but he also feels that there’s a lack of awareness about the drink.

He says, “You make some good whiskies. I enjoy Signature, Antiquity and even McDowell’s. These are potent spirits which lack complexity. That apart, I feel whisky pairs better with Indian food than with European cuisine.”