This is an experience of many firsts.
I, a first-time whiskey ‘patron’, team up with India’s first qualified whisky expert, Sandeep Arora, to embark on an appreciation trail — pairing whisky and food.
We start at Bukhara, the ITC Sheraton restaurant that claims to be Bill Clinton’s favourite. Our first stop is at the table of cottage cheese and chicken tikka platters, along with their distinguished companion — a 15-year-old Springbank single malt.
After downing a bite of cottage cheese, Arora guides me through my first ‘nosing’ — the act of gently shaking the glass, letting the alcohol settle so it doesn’t assault the olfactory senses when one inhales the bouquet, and then taking a sip. It’s all deliciously warm.
What does it evoke, he asks.
The comforting feeling of home, I reply.
Springbank, whose standard bottle is a 10-year-old, is a robust, complex whisky that goes well with barbecued proteins such as cottage cheese and chicken.
Another tip-and-swig and I’m ready for some more food. A bite of crunchy capsicum or roasted tomato also complements the Springbank. On the other hand, onion fights for flavour, while cucumber respectfully gives way to it.
We swivel some water and get ready to start afresh.
The next stop is at the mutton burra kebab accompanied by a 10-year-old Laphroaig, an Islay single malt. Lamb is a meat that retains its texture, and a bite reminds me why heaven is actually on earth.
Laphroaig has a woody, smoky flavour and that’s why it’s best suited with this meat. Even a 21-year-old Bruichladdich, that we try next, is another elegant malt that makes for a good companion with mutton or lamb.
We move on to another ITC restaurant, the Dum Pukht, where we sample a blend whisky, the 21-year-old Royal Salute with tawa-cooked doodhiya kebabs and Dum Pukht biryani.
Royal Salute 21 is a distinguished blend, whose flavour carries a hint of sultanas (raisins). A great blend in all. Just one tip: a Royal Salute 21 is best had with a cube of ice — and that’s nothing to do with the summer.
Are we done yet? Arora asks. I pause and ask myself.
No, I can still eat and drink more. That’s the charm of good blending, he says.
We move to the Lodhi at the Aman for some Spanish food. Here, we nibble at some vegetarian and non-vegetarian entrées: Roasted beet with Manchego cream, rocket leaves and hazelnuts, and then a salad of baby greens, melon and Jamon Serranno (country ham).
Both can be wolfed down with a 10-year-old Auchentoshan, a delicate single malt. Exquisite. Next up is the main course — a seafood paella (a pulao with different catches from the sea) — that finds a worthy companion in an older single malt, an 18-year-old Talisker.
By now, I’m feeling heavy but my pocket is light. So, nowhere too fancy. I taste some Prawn Gassi at Swagath, and match it with a 12-year-old Highland Park.
Arora tells me that you can have jeera chicken from Kake Da Hotel with a 19-year-old Whyte and Mackay and Karim’s mutton burra with a Black Label. I get takeaways, head home and call up some friends.