Whisky and Tapas pairing with Sandeep Arora @ The Ritz Carlton Bar, Bangalore

There are great events, and then there are not so great events. And then there are those events that open your eyes to a new horizon and mark the beginning of an unknown, leaving a feeling of immense gratitude to be simply part of. I was invited to one such extra-ordinary evening last Friday at the Ritz Carlton Bar. Attended by the crème-de la crème of Bangalore, the event in question was Whisky Pairing with Tapas curated by Chef Anupam Banerjee and in the distinguished presence of none other than Sandeep Arora.

There has been much a debate on the use of “e” before “y” in Whiskey and the world is of split opinion on the same. Internationally accepted convention states that those produced in the United States get to retain the “e” whereas the others need not. When it comes to Scotch whisky, the “e” is lost and the stakes are higher. One is expected to associate a certain high handedness with the traditional Scotch drinkers and their detachment from the lesser mortals. So a traditional Whisky Pairing event is usually a formal affair with a discerning few and their high brows and refined tastes. Contrary to that, this one was a dynamic pairing where probably the best 6 Scotches of the world were laid out alongside a selected Tapas menu. Invitees were provided with the freedom to discover their own bliss. Putting in the words of the imminent personality and a dear friend- Ruby Chakravarti “Sandeep has taken the snobbery out of Whisky Tasting and given it a new dimension”. I was ecstatic to be part of this special event hosted by the well-trained team of Ritz Carlton and attended by the who’s who of Bangalore.

Sandeep introduced the 6 varieties and spoke a bit about their each distinct origin and notes. Thereafter he left us with the liberty to try and discover on our own. I made some startling discoveries and here goes a brief synopsis of my experience:

The first Scotch that I tried was Glenkinchie from the lowlands of East Lothian. Kinchie is a colloquial corruption of De Quincy, the original owners of the land where the distillery is located. It is fresh and light with notes of Lemon and Fresh Cut Grass. It has a sweet nose and a hint of peat. I was quite convinced about pairing it with the assorted Charcuterie and it went pretty well. The Smoked Cheddar was a popular choice, but I wanted to check out its compatibility with the Smoked Salmon on Buck Wheat Blinis. I was right, and probably it was the dry wheat and its earthy smell or simply the universal appeal of the Salmon that made it the perfect fit.

Talisker 10 YO has been something I am familiar with and happened to be my next choice. Referred to by the King o’ Drinks by none other than Robert Louis Stevenson, this has been a classic from time immemorial. Its intense and complicated notes are appreciated by orthodox Scotch drinkers and is in a league of its own. Originated from the Isle of Skye, Talisker is available in many variants and belongs to the Classic Malt category. I always felt that white meat will pair well with it and so tried the Chicken Tikka on Minted Tarts. However it was the Shrimp Avocado Ceviche where I found my bliss with this special malt. I did try the Melon wrapped in Prosciutto, but decided to stick to the Shrimp Ceviche.

The next trial was with none other than the Oban, which is from the West Highlands and is aged a minimum of 14 years in oak casks. It is a full bodied Single Malt with a fruity nose of Orange and Sea-Salt and peaty smokiness. I paired it with the Paneer Tikka Skewers sans the Mint dip and Caramelized Fig and Brie. It went better with the Paneer and I decided to stick to it.

Perhaps the most elegant and rarest of the evening as up next in my list-Cragganmore 12 Years Old. Originated from the Banffshire region of Speyside, this is often termed as the most complex Strathspey Single Malt. It has a Honey and Vanilla Nose. I paired it with the Tuna and Water Melon Ceviche and some Beetroot Hummus with the Coin Pita. I stuck to the Pita and Hummus as the aquatic taste of the melon did not do justice to the chocolatey notes of this light to medium bodied beauty.

The most aged in the list was up next- the very distinguished Lagavulin, 16 Years Old. Originated from the island of Islay, this single malt smells of mature Sherry and Vanilla on the Nose and has a thick and rich palate. I paired it with the Palm Heart and Sweet Potato Ceviche and the Mushroom Voulez Vous. The latter was the option I stuck to till the end.

The Final Malt was the exotic Dalwhinnie, a typical Highland Single Malt named after its origin and is aged 15 years. Truly Aromatic and fruity on the Nose, this unique sweet and smooth palate went very well with the Chocolate Truffles and the Eclairs in the Dessert section. I am not a fan of White Chocolate, and so did not explore that option. The Chocolate Macaroon also went quite well with it.

The tasting panel was asked to explain about their findings and the best description by none other than Biren Ghose won a two-night stay at the Ritz. As the evening drew to a close, I left with a few new discoveries and education in the fine genre of Single Malts which I intend to explore more in the years to come. My heartfelt thanks to the entire Ritz Carlton team, Debanjan Kundu and the one and only Gargi Guha for inviting me to this ethereal event.

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