All posts by Vikram Achanta

About Vikram Achanta

Vikram is co-founder and CEO of www.tulleeho.com, a drinks website and Tulleeho, a drinks training and consulting firm.

On the Rocks – Whisky Wizards – William, Jim, George, Jack, John

William Grant

William Grant
William Grant

Born in 1839. A man who followed his dream. In 1886, he identified the Valley of the River Fiddich, to be the perfect place to make the perfect dram of whisky, and along with his 9 children, began to with their own hands build the Glenfiddich distillery. Even today, after 128 years, William Grant remains family owned and family run, with members of the 5th and 6th generation of the family, actively involved in the business. It’s one of the few major distilleries to remain family owned.

Jim Beam

Jake Beam
Jake Beam

The Boehm family first stepped foot in America in 1740. They later changed their family name to Beam. In 1770 Bourbon was born in America. Jacob Beam sold his first barrel of whisky in 1795 and it was called “Old Jake Beam Sour Mash”. The distillery was then known as Old Tub. Colonel James B Beam was born in 1864 and after prohibition lifted in America he unveiled Jim Beam, when he was 69 years old. After the lifting of prohibition he brought the family distillery back to life in 120 days.

George Ballantine

George Ballantine
George Ballantine

George Ballantine was born into a family of farmers hailing from the town of Brought Knowe, Peebleshire. A grocer by trade, George set up shop at the tender age of 19, in a completely different part of Edinburgh to most of the other grocers. Blending was in George Ballantine’s nature. He started with tea as a lad, but moved to malts later. In 1910, in celebration of George and his passion, his sons created the whisky he is most remembered for, Ballantine’s Finest – complex, elegant and truly iconic. George Ballantine, our founder, used to tell his sons – “get the blend right and you’ve got everything right.” In 2011, Jim Murray named the definitive 17 year old ‘whisky of the year’.

Jack Daniel

Jack Daniel
Jack Daniel

Unable to open the safe in his office, Mr. Jack kicked it in frustration. This blow broke his toe and infection set in, leading to his untimely death in 1911. No one knows exactly when Jack Daniel was born because there are no birth records, but it’s customary to celebrate Mr. Jack’s birthday in September. Born Jasper “Jack” Newton Daniel, one of 13 children, he was taken in after his parents death by Dan Cole, a local minister who also had a whisky still. Jack passed away in 1911 and some even say that his nephew Lem Motlow changed the label of the bottle to black to mourn his passing.

John Jameson

John Jameson
John Jameson

Ireland’s most famous whiskey was founded by a Scotsman. Having spent most of his life as a sheriff clerk, John Jameson arrived in Dublin as a middle-aged man. “Our fearless founder stepped off a ship from his native Scotland to set up the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin in 1780.” On every bottle of Jameson, you’ll see the words Sine Metu and it means without fear, as it was given to John Jameson’s forefathers who battled pirates at sea. In 1805 he handed over the distillery to his son John Jameson IInd and in fact the first four people to run the distillery were all called John Jameson.

Vikram Achanta

Drinking Out – Cocktails and Craft Beer in Sydney

Grandma’s – Basement, 275, Clarence Street, Sydney

I swear to you, if there was no Google, then most bars would never be found and Grandma’s is a case in point. A small speakeasy, down a narrow flight of stairs, it was pretty nigh impossible to find. A rum bar it is, and don’t ask me why a Rum speakeasy is called Grandma’s. I’m thirsty and settle on a cocktail called “Made Man” with Talisker, Ron Zacapa 23yo, Sweet Vermouth and Bitters, served in a Coupette. Not cheap at AUD 17 but a treat to drink.

 

Baxter’s Inn – Basement, 152-156, Clarence Street, Sydney

I first walked into an interesting looking bar called Barber Shop, which seemed a perfectly fine bar, except that it wasn’t Baxter’s Inn, which was my destination of choice. Out of Barber Shop and into a real life hair dressing saloon on Clarence Street, whose staff and patrons pleaded ignorance. I wandered back into the courtyard where Barber Shop was, and decided to take my chance down a narrow flight of stairs, and sure enough there it was, Baxter’s Inn, packed to the brim, with a long bar, packed with bottles of whisky, arranged alphabetically, all carefully labeled and with two ladders on either side of the bar, to help access the higher up bottles.

And as I observed through my stint there, the ladders weren’t only for show. I decided to try my luck on “Dublin or Nothing”, which turned out to be a superbly made cocktail, mixing up Jameson, Pineapple, Lemon, Ginger and Benedictine. I managed to find a space at the crowded bar and placed my order there. Watched the bartenders do their magic, scramble up ladders, listened to some chit chat from my neighbors who were catching a quick drink before hitting the ferry and enjoyed my cocktail.

Frankie’s Pizza, 50 Hunter Street, Sydney

After visiting two Speakeasies back to back, and both of them in basements, it was a relief to walk into Frankie’s located as it was on the street in Sydney’s Central Business District. The décor and menu were all things Italian, from the long strands of garlic and tomatoes hanging behind the bar, to the wide range of Aperitifs available and the Mafiosi who grudgingly let me in. I settled for a mug of Six Strings Pale Ale (on tap) along with a slice of Salami Pizza, to bring my Sydney pub crawl to a close.

Vikram Achanta

Drinking in Bhutan

The only flip side of visiting Bhutan just prior to the monsoons is that the promised views go abegging, whether they are of the Southern Himalayas from the Dochu la pass, or of the Black Mountains in the Phobjikha valley. Fortunately there’s enough options available for me to drown my sorrows, from the range of products made by ‘awp’ to excellent wheat and lager beer to ara, a native spirit of Bhutan. A liberal licensing environment too, ensures that alcohol is within easy reach from nearly every supermarket to general stores which double up as bars. And if you feel severely tempted, then nearly every shrine or monastery I visit, has stacks of bottles given as offerings to the deities.

The attractions of Bhutan are so many, that I am tempted to start a business here and settle down, but I’m told by my guide, that foreigners need to form a joint venture with a local Bhutanese concern in order to get started. A Swiss gentleman named Fritz Maurer circumvented this in the 1960’s when he married a Bhutanese and settled down in the bucolic environs of Bumthang, a region sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Bhutan (and no doubt of Asia too). There he began making a variety of artisanal products including honey, Swiss cheese and a wheat beer called Red Panda. His micro brewery in Bumthang supplies Red Panda on tap to the lucky locals, and in recycled beer bottles belonging to other brands (the ones I drank were all in Kingfisher bottles!) to parts further afield. Bhutan’s excellent water no doubt has a role to play in this brew, and Red Panda is my constant companion through my 9 day tour. My attempts to bring 2 bottles back to India to get them sampled by a friend Ankur Jain, who makes an excellent wheat beer called Bira 91, were however foiled by the cops at Paro airport, who feared that the bottles might burst in flight.

Wherever Red Panda was not available, the range of beers under the Druk brand name were available, from the regular lager to a premium lager to Druk 11000, which as the name suggests was a strong beer. I tried them all, and would happily do so again.

Most alcoholic beverages in Bhutan, have “awp” project on the label. Awp stands for Army welfare project, and I’d never heard before of a concern like this which was a unit incubated by the Bhutanese army in 1974, to act as a source of funds for the army, with two distilleries. I visit the one major liquor store in the town of Paro, just before my flight out, and there’s a wide range of products available from brandy to rum to whisky.

Retail store in Paro
Retail store in Paro

Out of those on offer, I had previously sampled the XXX rum, which was an acceptable navy style rum, as well as K5, a whisky made to celebrate the coronation of His majesty the 5th Druk Gyalpo. Also on offer is Misty Peak, which promises a mix of blended Scotch from Scotland with local grain spirit. I pick up a bottle of Misty Peak, several small ones of K5 and a bottle of the Spirit of the Raven vodka, which is in a very impressive tall frosted white bottle. For a nation of not more than 7 lakh, Bhutan makes a surprisingly large variety of alcobev.

Royal XXX rum
Royal XXX rum

The icing on the cake for me however was tracking down ara, which is a native spirit made in Bhutan, either from corn, rice or wheat.

Drinking Ara
Drinking Ara

Quite like moonshine, says Namgyang our guide, who finds that our lady chef in the farm lodge we are having lunch also makes ara on the side, and has a couple of bottles to spare, which I gladly buy. The alcoholic percentage seems low enough to drink it neat, and so I am advised to do. Quite palatable, and a nice, sweetish taste profile. On the penultimate day of my trip, we hike back from the Tigers Nest monastery, and I find at a souvenir shop, a traditional cylindrical vessel with two narrow openings, one to pour in the ara, and the other to pour it out from. I have a bottle waiting of ara waiting to be decanted into the same at my bar, and I’m waiting for the first guests!

Tigers Nest
Tigers Nest

Vikram Achanta

India’s native spirits # 1 – On the Mahua Trail

IMG_2552
Neelam

My family holiday to Kanha to spot the tiger, which eluded us on our last jungle trips to Ranthambore and Corbett, also has an interesting side project, a quest for Mahua, a beverage which is fermented and then distilled from the flowers of the Mahua tree, which is omni-present in Madhya Pradesh. Friends who have visited MP, have told me that it’s not difficult to lay your hands on, but I assumed some minimal effort would still need to be put, as it might be considered quasi legal to make Mahua in your house, but selling it as a commercial product, would I’m sure be something out of the bounds of the law.

Flowering of the Mahua tree finishes around April, which is when the flowers are collected, for further use. What we can now see on some of the branches is the fruit of the Mahua, the seeds of which our naturalist informs us are used to make an oil used for medicinal purposes. The fruit itself is however not eaten.


On checking into my resort, I decide as soon as possible to spread the word about my need for Mahua in multiple directions. My first point of contact was Seema, the friendly gardener outside my room. She was a local and inclined to chat, so I asked her if she could get me some Mahua, and remember for future reference, it’s important to clarify that you’re looking for Mahua liquor! Seema seemed a bit uncertain, but told me that she’d try. In conversation with Amit, the resort manager later in the day, who had been recently transplanted from Rajasthan, I asked him if he had tried Mahua himself and he replied that he had, but it was not quite to his taste. He did promise however to help me source some, a request which ended up as I was to discover, back with Seema!

On an early morning run the next morning, I had a cup of tea in Mocha village, also host to my resort, and made enquiries at the tea shop about where I could find Mahua in the village, and was directed to a house down a narrow lane, with a mango tree marking the start of the lane. I made some enquiries after entering the lane, and was directed to one house, who politely refused, and pointed me next door. I then asked a passing cyclist to help, and he knocked on the door, and asked if the lady who answered “had something”, she replied in the positive, and I handed her an empty bottle of Bisleri I was carrying for her to fill up. For the princely sum of INR 60/-, I carried back a full bottle of Mahua to the resort.

On may back I met Seema, the friendly gardener, who told me that she too had got a bottle! It seemed that my cup of Mahua overfloweth. Not wanting to disappoint her I asked her also to bring it along. She seemed quite affronted about my other purchase, and when she brought the bottle, asked me to carefully compare both and tell her which was better. I paid her INR 100/- and solemnly assured her that I would.

IMG_4394
Mahua with Soda and a dash of Lime

So there they were on my kitchen counter, two Bisleri bottles, chock full of Mahua. I bided my time however and in a while, poured a bit from both into two glasses, and smelt and tasted them. I found that Seema’s product was like nothing I had ever tasted before, full bodied and earthy, while the one from Mochi village, was a bit more subdued. I decided to put in a healthy shot of Mahua into a glass, added some ice and soda, and squeezed in a wedge of lime, and sat back to drink it. I repeated this at various times over the next couple of days, and still was left with enough in both bottles to carry back to Delhi. The mahua however didn’t last the journey, and was best consumed fresh or at most within a day or two of production.

Don’t forget to try and lay your hands on it if you journey to MP. I do regret however that the curmudgeonly Indian state makes it pretty near impossible to permit entrepreneurs to commercialize the production of Mahua, a project which could help spurt agro industry in the region, and bring to the fore front, a spirit which was actually drinkable as opposed to most of the feni I’ve ever drunk. A candidate for India’s national spirit? Sure thing

Vikram Achanta

Collectors Corner – Vodka Mania – with Nischal Gurung

Starting a vodka collection? Vodka addict, Nischal Gurung recommends the following brands – Smirnoff, Absolut, Skyy (great packaging), Grey Goose, Belvedere (made from Rye), Ciroc (made from grapes), Pinky (Pink) and Blavod (Black). Coming from someone, who has a current collection of 21 vodkas from around the world, that’s advice you’d do well to heed.

Nischal’s interest in collecting vodka began, after he handled the bar at a party on behalf of Grey Goose Vodka, and the party was also attended by Dimi Lezinska the then Grey Goose brand ambassador. Vodka has always been sold by imagery, and it was this imagery personified by Dimi and Grey Goose, which got Nischal bewitched by vodka.

He doesn’t just collect vodka, but he also drinks what he has. He however tries to make sure, that he has a little left in each bottle, until that is, he gets a replacement. Nischal disagrees with the popular myth that vodka is a tasteless and odourless beverage, and says that most vodkas, have their own characteristic taste profile. Every time he opens a new bottle of vodka, he has a taste to see how it compares to other brands. He prefers to drink his vodka on ice and neat, and is not a big fan of flavoured vodkas. Vodka’s versatility as a cocktail mixer comes in useful, when he has guests over.

Of course being in India, it’s not that easy to source a lot of brands, so he relies on friends or relatives to source particular bottles on his wish list for him. Being connected to the beverage and hospitality industry is also a bonus as some of his clients knowing of his love for vodka, have begun to gift him bottles. As regards vodka from India, Nischal indicates that Romanov and White Mischief are both nice, and he also likes the Magic Moments Lemon grass flavoured vodka. His personal favourite however is Absolut.

Vodkas of Note

 

If you love vodka, then you should try and become friends with Nischal, as he only opens special bottles of vodka with people who’d appreciate them.

Vikram Achanta

 

Drinking in Goa – Part 2

Day 2 was planned as a road trip, which with a visit to 6 bars and restaurants promised a state of satiation by the end of the day. What the hell, I thought to myself, I’m in Goa.

My first stop was SinQ in Candolim, a complex comprising a hotel, a nightclub and also Goa’s first brewpub, run by the enterprising and irrepressible Amit Adatia. Amit’s first attempt to market the “Beer Machine”, (a self contained device to make beer at home in India), came a cropper, but he kept at it, until he was able to get the brewpub at SinQ off the ground, which uses the beermixes supplied by the Beer Machine company. Amit told me to meet up with Vance, and I was all set to meet a 20 something young American brewer, who wanted to “do” India, when to my surprise I met a grizzled veteran of the American beer industry, who was now exploring fresh pastures in India. Vance has settled in well to Goa, and much prefers it to his earlier stint in China. Although the Beer Mixes offer him a ready-made concentrate for brewing, he’s tinkering around at a local level by adding fun ingredients. I sampled the Canadian Red Ale and the Honey Brown, and a bit of the Vienna (think it was an ale?), which was in a semi-ready state.

If you want to know what those are, you’ll have to visit SinQ. If you can’t make it Candolim, then hopefully in the near future, Amit will have more brewpubs running in Goa. A few samples down, I’d begun to feel hungry, so decided to pop in to the much-recommended Bomras, a Burmese restaurant down the road, where I made do with a prawns salad, and eschewed anything to drink.

Karan Upadhye from the Tulleeho FB group had told me that I must visit Bob’s Inn in Baga, with

Bob of Bob's Inn
Bob of Bob’s Inn

Bob having the distinction of opening independent Goa’s first bar in 1962. I’ve always been a fan of history J, so it was off to Bob’s for me. Easy to find and on the main road, it was fairly deserted, in stark contrast to most places in Goa, on a sunny winter afternoon. I settled in for a plate of prawns and a beer, and meanwhile looked around for Bob, who was easy to find. Well into my beer, I asked Bob, if he truly had begun the oldest bar in Goa, which he corroborated, and took me into a room, where it all began, strewn with hundreds of cobweb dusted bottles, some still with alcohol in them. I asked if I could have a drink from one of them, and pointed to a bottle of Old Monk, when he nodded his head. I went back to my table, and sure enough a shot of Old Monk was sent over, which seemed to have lost none of it’s potency, even after god knows how many years in the bottle. Bob however was morose, as he was the last of the generation probably to run the bar, with his daughter clearly not interested in taking over. Maybe she’ll have a change of heart, and keep a bit of Goan history alive for us!

Darius Anthony Miranda from the FB group, had recommended a visit to St. Anthony’s Shack in

St. Anthony's at Baga
St. Anthony’s at Baga

Baga, and with a surname like Miranda, that was advice I could ill afford to pass up. Baga was a mess however, a bit like Chandni Chowk on steroids, and I found St. Ant’s easily enough, and settled into a table with a view of the crowded beach. The only redeeming factor was that they could serve me a chilled bottle of King’s (although not on the menu), to accompany my plate of fish curry and rice. I beat a quick retreat from Baga, as I was off to what promised to be the high point of the evening, a visit to Thalassa in Mini Vagator, a Greek tavern, located on a cliff, and overlooking the beach. Thalassa offers 3 choices of reservations; lunch, sunset (5 to 8 pm) or dinner, and people in the know had advised me to opt for the sunset booking. Not much of a romantic, I found it difficult to understand, how one sunset could be different from the other, but I was keen on making a reasonably early trip back to my hotel, as I had one more halt to make on the return, so sunset it was. Thalassa was everything it promised to be, a glorious location, the company of friends, sinuous Greek (?) dancers, with slits as high as the eye could see, a chilled bottle of wine, and some toothsome canapés. Don’t miss it, and any time is good!

 

For those of you who remember Part 1 of my escapades, I’d met up with Sabreen and Prahlad, chef / sommelier turned gastropub owners, and I was off to meet another such entrepreneur, Shawn D’Souza, one of India’s legendary bartenders, and along with his brother, founder of Kudos, a pizzeria cum grill cum bar, and I was meeting him at the outpost in Baga.

Stuffed to the gills as I was, I still couldn’t resist a few slices of Kudos’s amazing Goan sausage pizza and a spicy Jalapeno margarita. Shawn seemed pretty content with the life of a restaurateur, and revealed to me his upcoming plans, with the next outlet, actually going to have a proper bar, a subject still close to Shawn’s heart.

Stomach sated, and feeling uplifted by all the amazing people I’d met through the day, who were helping make Goa the great place it is, I set off towards Panjim.

Vikram Achanta

 

 

Drinking in Goa – Part 1

A cry for help to the Tulleeho FB group, brought forward a flurry of suggestions, and the one and a half free days I had in Goa, before my alumni reunion took over, seemed too short to make ends meet, but you have to live with what you’ve got. My first stop was well timed as I landed in Goa just around lunch, and had kept my appetite well primed, with the temptations (or lack of them) of an Indigo in flight menu, easy to avoid.

Sheela Bar
Sheela Bar

A deal was struck with my Panjim bound taxi, for a lunch stop over at Sheela’s bar and restaurant, which came highly recommended from Elvis Dias, who said “Please don’t analyse the name. Be careful u can miss it. No prominent signboard. However he has the usual bottled beers including Kings but some of the best authentic food in the whole of Goa. Simply awesome. Ask for Sylvester the owner. Interesting philosophy. The bar has no menu card. He says you got to know what we are famous for.”

My driver however was well aware of Sheela. A single story building with the restaurant on an open balcony overlooking the bay, I was there in a trice, and settled at a table. To my dismay, however they had no Kings beer, so I settled for a regular brand of lager and decided to satisfy myself with a hearty (and heavy lunch), comprising of a platter of prawns followed by a plate of fish curry rice. Spotting a man walking around with a proprietary air, and whose belly indicated the good life to an extreme, I asked him if he was Sylvester, which he confirmed. I told him about Elvis’s comment that you had to know what to ask for and he laughed it off, by saying I’d already ordered two of their specialties, but he would recommend if I came in a group to try their Goan sausage pulao.

On to Panjim and after checking into my hotel situated right next to the Panjim church, one of my first calls was to Desmond Nazareth, one of the most innovative entrepreneurs working in the alcobev space in India, who calls Panjim his home. Des’s house was situated in Altinho, and about a 15-minute walk from where I was, mostly up a hill, so after a brief rest, I braved the fading sun in Goa, and walked up to his house, in an attempt to digest my lunch. Des has a wide and varied bar, including some excellent Feni made by a friend of his, purely for the consumption of a small group of friends, who buy it by the caseload. I decide to start with some Urak, which is the first distillate of Feni, and Des mixes this up with some lime and soda, and we retire to his balcony to chat about matters alcoholic. As the owner of the eponymous Desmondji, Des has been responsible for some amazing products, and you can read about their origins here.

My experiences with Feni in the past have not been great to say the least, and I often wonder why someone can’t make a Feni, which is less pungent, and fortunately Des’s friend’s Urak does the job, and in fact makes for a very pleasant sundowner, which I down in short order. The term “skunkworks” refers to ongoing development projects being run by companies, some of which might see the light of day, and the joy of visiting Des’s house is being exposed to products he’s tinkering with. He pours one such drink for me, and swears me to secrecy. All I can reveal is that it has a taste, which quite resembles Cognac or Armagnac. Des is awaiting sanction to start producing the same at his distillery and is going stir crazy in anticipation, because the product has considerable potential. I also pick up a bottle of Kings from his fridge, which I drink side by side, as this is a rite of passage I enjoy, when I visit Goa.

Des gives me a couple of bottles to take back, a bottle of the Desmondji cane rum to take back to Delhi and a bottle of his 51% Oak finish agave spirit to enjoy at my alumni reunion party. I drift back down the hill in a mildly alcoholic stupor, and hope that a speeding scooter doesn’t put paid to my Goan adventure. On the way back I stop off at Casa Baretto, run by Milton Baretto, an excellent liquor retail shop, and pick up a bottle of the Paul John Edited, a single malt made by John Distillers, and available sparingly. Paul John has two variants, and Milton recommends the Edited, which at 46% promises to be a flavourful treat.

Prahlad and Sabreen Sukthankar, are both hospitality professionals who have spent large parts of their professional life overseas. On their return to Goa, they found something lacking in Goan nightlife. What resulted is Black Sheep Bistro located at a 10 minutes walk from my hotel. On my walk there, I stop off, at but naturally, another liquor shop, where I pick up 2 bottles of Cazulo’s cashew feni. BSB is a lovely little gastro pub, with a great layout. Upfront is a welcoming bar, with bar stools lined up by the bar, and by the window, tables to seat 2, just perfect for a couple. A room on the side and one at the back, make up the main body of the restaurant.

The menu is minimalistic, with as you’d expect from Prahlad’s sommelier background, a well put together wine list, and a short but interesting cocktail list, including the interestingly titled Pecore Negrino, or the Black Negrino, a signature cocktail for BSB, where the Cazulo Feni replaces the gin. The food menu has a series of small plates, and I tuck into a couple of selections, as Prahlad whips up a Pecore Negrino for me. It’s fascinating as a trend to see an increasing number of restaurants being opened by people with an intimate knowledge of food and beverage service like Chefs / Bartenders / Sommeliers. It counts a great deal for the atmosphere generated by the place and the people who work there, and BSB radiates this.

I chat with Prahlad a while and Sabreen also joins us. A friendly couple, they’re keen on promoting local produce, which includes drinks, which accounts for Cazulo Feni and Desmondji featuring in their cocktails. Day One is done, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow, cause new Goan drinking adventures beckon.

Vikram Achanta

 

On the Rocks – Amrut Ahoy – India’s finest whisky

It’s not every day that you walk into your office and find a football on your desk, and not just any football, but a Man U ball, with the Man U logo on one side, and on the other the logo of Amrut whisky. As an offer of association it was perhaps a little too much for Amrut to afford, but as a sign that Amrut had truly arrived on the world stage, it was priceless. And not something that Rakshit Jagdale probably envisaged, when as an MBA student at Newcastle on Tyne in the early 1990s, he gave a sample of malt spirit produced by Amrut to the owner of a famous whisky bar in Glasgow called The Pot Still.

When Rakshit returned after a few days to check if the owner had tried it, the owner instead asked him to come back in the evening, which was when they would run an experiment with the regulars. Back that evening at the Pot Still, they introduced the Amrut as a mystery dram, and asked regular scotch drinkers to guess where it was from. “Highland” said one, “Speyside”, another, naming two of the most famous regions for Single Malt production in Scotland, and indeed in the world. Talk about a vote of confidence in your product! It took a while after that, but then in 2004, they introduced Amrut Single Malt for the first time in Glasgow.

 

Visiting Amrut’s distillery on the outskirts of Bangalore, takes about 90 minutes or so from their original location, on Bangalore’s Sampangi Tank Road (opposite where now the ITC Gardenia hotel stands). The founder of Amrut was a chemist making bulk drugs, and N R Jagdale took up his mantle. The Jagdale group makes a range of IMFL spirits, mostly in what you’d classify as entry-level products in the categories they are present in like, whisky and brandy. So Amrut represents a giant step into the big leagues for the brand.

When we arrive at Amrut, our first sight on entering the distillery is a big stack of barrels, which have recently arrived from the Jack Daniel’s distillery in America. The bulk of the barrels used to age Amrut are once used Bourbon / Tennessee whiskey barrels, and these are increasingly hard to come by. But as the demand for Amrut’s whisky grows exponentially, so does their need to expand the number of warehouses, which are carefully ageing the whisky. At last count, when we visited a few months ago, 5000 + barrels of whisky are carefully being aged across 6 warehouses.

It’s only recently that Amrut has begun to become increasingly available in India, with its whiskies now available in markets like Chandigarh and Mumbai. I understand from conversation at the plant, that due to Indian climate, it’s difficult to age whiskies beyond 4 to 5 years, with a simple rule of thumb equating one year in India to 3 in Scotland. And after this time period, they move the whisky from oak barrels to stainless steel barrels to stop the ageing.

 

Every brand needs a break out moment, and this came for Amrut in 2010, when Jim Murray, publisher of an eponymous annual Whisky Bible, announced that Amrut Fusion was the 3rd best whisky in the world. This piece of news possibly catalyzed and certainly tremendously helped it’s launch in the domestic market, a good 6 years after it’s launch in Glasgow. As the name indicates, the Fusion is a mix of two types of malted barley (the main ingredient from which whisky is made), peated malt from the UK and Indian barley malt from North India.

Fusion is not the only example Amrut has of a brand made across borders, they also have a whisky called Amrut 2 Continents, which is partly matured in Bangalore, with the spirit then transferred to the island of Heligoland (a small German archipelago in the North Sea), where it is again matured and then bottled.

Amrut’s success has encouraged other Indian companies like Paul John and Tilaknagar to also introduce their own brands of Single Malt. The team at Amrut welcomes more players, and hopes that the other companies pursue their dreams with the same passion that Amrut has.

With ageing being the challenge it is in India, Amrut is trying to break new boundaries in this area, with the first attempts in the form of a whisky called Greedy Angels, which is a 8 ½ year old single malt whisky, the most they’ve ever done. It’s named for Angels Share, the term given in Scotland, to the whisky, which evaporates each year from the barrels. Perhaps given the scarcity of Amrut in India, we should call this Amrut’s loss!

 

 Vikram Achanta

Dregs – 3 Bars touched by history

O’Coqueiro, Povorim, Goa

Statue of Charles Sobhraj  at O'Coqueiro
Statue of Charles Sobhraj at O’Coqueiro

It might seem strange now, but in the 1980’s, 1986 to be precise, O’Coqueiro, a bar / restaurant in Goa, was supposedly one of the few places which boasted a telephone connection reliable enough to make and receive international calls. O’Coqueiro, which in Portugese means The Coconut Tree, is of course also justifiably famous for it’s food and drink. But it was neither it’s telecommunications USP or the quality of it’s chicken cafreal which propelled it to fame in 1986. Inspector Madhukar Zende, boasting of an extraordinary degree of intuition was bargaining on it’s ISD (international subscriber dialling) links to find wanted criminal Charles Sobhraj there. And so it transpired on April 6th, Charles Sobhraj’s 42nd birthday that Charles and his friend David Hall were dining, when Inspector Zende dramatically arrested him, and bundled David and him into a car to be transported to Mumbai.

The Viegas family, owners of O’Coqueiro was prompt to capitalise on this turn of good fortune for them (although no doubt a bit of a downer for Charles), as this sculpture in their restaurant bears witness.

Bangalore Club, Bangalore

The whole of Bangalore is at the moment in a state of suspended animation and shock, due to the withdrawal of the bar license of the Bangalore Club, supposedly due to an affront caused to a member of the state bureaucracy. Back in 1899, a hundred and fifteen years ago, the consequences of an unpaid bar bill and possibly remonstrations by the bar secretary were not that severe. The bar bill however belonged to Sir Winston Churchill, who in 1896 had arrived in Bangalore as a young soldier, and stayed there for 3 years before leaving to fight on the North West frontier.

Bangalore Club ledger showing Winston Churchill's bar bill
Bangalore Club ledger showing Winston Churchill’s bar bill

In 2009, Col Murthy, the then Club Secretary says in the last three years that he has been the club secretary, many Britons have approached him to settle the bill. “We tell them that history is history, it can’t be rewritten,” he says.

 

 

Qutub Colonnade, New Delhi

No_One_Killed_Jessica_Movie
No one killed Jessica – the movie made on this incident

Back in the late 1990’s, Socialite and designer Bina Ramani, restored an old colonial mansion in the Mehrauli area, near to the Qutub Minar. She called this development as the Qutub Colonnade, which quickly was occupied by upmarket shops, and also a cafe she set up called the Tamarind Court Cafe. You can say that Bina, was one of the first to “discover” the Qutub area, which 15 years ago, was a far cry from what it is today. Hauz Khas Village, where Bina also ran a night club called “No Exit”, was another area, she thought had great potential.
It was at the Qutub Colonnade on the night of 29th Apri, 1999,  when Manu Sharma shot Jessica Lal, (a model who was doing a stint as a celebrity bartender) at point blank range, resulting in her death. The Qutub Colonnade you could say was functioning as a “speakeasy”, and serving alcohol without a license. That incident apart from having tragic consequences for Jessica, and the rest of her family, also led to a crackdown in Delhi’s nightlife, and any hopes that women might be given permission to bartend were put to a quiet rest.

Vikram Achanta

Drinking Out – Dramz Whisky Bar, Delhi

Dramz Whisky Bar

1580/1, Kalka Das Marg, Mehrauli, New Delhi, Delhi 110016
011 2664 6702
Google Maps

Logo

My plan was to go for a pub crawl in Mehrauli, starting at Olive’s Dirty Martini and then carrying on to Dramz Whisky Bar for a night cap. Dirty Martini is however booked out for a private party, with the only option being 4 lonely looking tables on the terrace next to a rocking party. I decided that was not my scene, and seeing a board indicating that Dramz was 50 meters on, decided to keep my car parked at Olive, and walk down to Dramz, no easy task as there is no pavement, and every bus is in a hurry to get to Mehrauli terminal. I make it to Dramz in one piece, and walk inside. From the outside, Dramz resembles a really large bungalow.

On entry, I see a bar, styled as a whisky lounge on my left, with welcoming couches and a long bar stacked with hordes of FullSizeRender-2whisky bottles. It’s really really empty though, and I can’t stand the thought of settling into one of those couches, surrounded by all that whisky, it’s more temptation than a man can take. I ask Amit Arora, the floor supervisor, if there’s more to Dramz than this, and he leads me up 2 flights of stairs, to the terrace, where the real charm of Dramz unveils itself. Behind me is a Korean couple, so I’m no longer alone.

 

The steep walk is worth it, because at the end is a terrace with a heck of a view. If I had a stone, I’d be able to hit the Qutub Minar. Well I’m exaggerating a bit, but the Qutub, dominates the skyline from the terrace, and as planes bank around the Qutub readying to land, it’s a beautiful sight.

I decide to start my evening with a whisky cocktail, and the only signature cocktail is one called Jack be Jamaican, which is what happens when an unwary bottle of Scotch whisky reaches the West Indies, only to find itself surrounded by orange juice, pineapple juice and lime juice. Priced at INR 575, I decide to leave myself at the mercy of the Dramz bartender. I relax and soak in some more of the view.

Jack Be Jamaican
Jack Be Jamaican

My cocktail is up pretty fast, accompanied by 2 heaped bowls of salted almonds and olives. A curly green straw in the glass looks a bit odd, as does the lack of a garnish, which no well dressed cocktail should be without. The taste of the cocktail was however splendid. The scotch whisky was shining through the maze of juices, and making it’s presence felt, and combined brilliantly with them. The drink was well balanced, and if you’re ordering it, make sure you tell them that you don’t want it too sweet. Suspicious of so many juices, I told them that, and they took due care.

I decide to follow up my cocktail with a chota peg of Single Malt. The Japanese whiskies look well priced, but unfortunately are not in stock, so I settle back on a Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength Single Malt. A superb whisky, it had been rated as “best bang for your buck” by the global whisky community Malt Maniacs back in 2004, and I was looking at getting reacquainted with it. The 105 is also believed to be the scotch industry’s first commercially available cask strength single malt. I add a dash of water, and sit back on a perfect December evening in New Delhi to sip this liquid treasure. True to form, it doesn’t disappoint.

If I only had the service, cocktails, whisky and surroundings to account for, then I’ve had a splendid time. But you go out to a bar, even if you’re in a group to be amongst a crowd of sociable people, and on that front Dramz sorely disappoints. Perhaps as Amit tells me, Friday and Saturday nights are better to visit, and I’m upto giving it another chance on a weekend. So should you.

Vikram Achanta

Drinking Out – Polo Bar, Rambagh Palace, Jaipur

In 1930 the Jaipur Polo team was on the top of the world, after it made a clean sweep of major international tournaments. To commemorate their feats the Polo Bar was set up at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur.

The Polo Bar as the name suggests, its dripping with polo memorabilia from every pore – trophies, photos of polo teams from daysbygone and the odd funny looking accessory. It has a small cosy bar at one end, almost like what you might have at your house, a nice pool in the middle, with water streaming in from a central minaret every few minutes (Reiki connection?). The Vodafone Sirmoor cup is on in Jaipur and funnily enough I see a photo on the wall from the Sirmoor cup.

Funny name, and Sirmoor turned out to be the name of a hill state in the Punjab. The Sirmoor Rifles was apparently one of the regiments which stayed loyal to the British during the 1857 War of Independence (note my political correctness).

To commemorate the 1857, I order a 1857 Bloodiest Bloody Mary, which had Absolut Peppar & Wasabi. This should be fun I thought! All in the name of science. I must also add, that The Polo Bar serves some great bar gratis, a 3some of Olives, Almonds and Cashew, with refills available. The steward also brought me a couple of complimentary canapes. The Jaipur Literature Festival was on, and there were some literary looking people in the room. Was that blonde in the corner Tina Brown?

The Bloody Mary when it arrived, needed a dash or more of Wasabi, which my steward gladly added, and it tasted just great. Worth every penny, the drink, the ambience, the history, the bar nuts…

The Polo Bar is a must visit, definitely one of the top bars in India.

Vikram Achanta

Dregs – Drink with Tulleeho: Ananth, author of Play With Me

“Pink Lips Pink Lips” trills Yo Yo Sunny Leone, and because we live in India, she doesn’t go on to mention which pair she’s referring to. I’d suggested that Ananth and I meet at Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy in Gurgaon’s Sector 15A market, one of the few places in the greater NCR region, where you can get great cocktails. Dot at 6 pm, Ananth walked in, in his hand, a copy of his book “Play With Me”, recently published by Penguin Books. Ananth orders a Dirty Martini, and I a Clover Club.

As we well know in India the sexual revolution although it’s alive and kicking, is largely behind closed doors, with popular culture of TV, Bollywood and Indian fiction, completely passing it by. There have been a couple of volumes of short erotic fiction I point out to Ananth, With short stories, “you’re only saddling the horse, you’re not taking it to water”, is Ananth’s quick riposte, clearly eager to remain secure in his position of the author of India’s first erotic novel. And erotic it is, I can confirm.

Play with Me checks in at a slim 246 pages, and is every man’s sodden dream. Sid is a talented partner in Alpha, a boutique photo shop cum creative agency and into this sea of testosterone, swims Cara, a drop dead gorgeous intern, fresh of the boat from New York, attracted to Alpha by Sid’s work (btw, Ananth is no mean amateur photographer himself and one wonders if there’s any self actualisation happening here). No surprises, Sid and Cara began to get it on, in every way possible, and then some, with the sex flying off the pages.

Our cocktails speedily arrive. My Clover Club is lip smacking, a turn of the 19th century (into the 20th) drink, with a pleasing mix of Gin, lemon juice, raspberry puree and egg white. The egg white giving the drink it’s texture and frothiness. Ananth has ordered his Dirty Martini, with vodka and after a first sip, pronounces it as perfect. He’s particular about his cocktails, and tells me about the bar at the Taj Vivanta in Gurgaon, which is a favourite of his, which gets the Espresso Martini just right. It can swing either way he tells me, depending on the kind of coffee, the sweetness levels, etc. Ananth is also particular about how his dark rum Mojitos are made. He also likes flavoured Martinis, Apple Cinnamon, Espresso & Green Apple.

Play With Me is populated with a set of sharply etched characters, from Sid to Cara, to Aanya, Natasha and Roy. More beans I shall not spill. A few days after having finished Play With Me, the character, which stands out the sharpest, however is Cara, and I’m intrigued to know from Ananth that if Bollywood did come calling, who’d be his pick from the current lot to play her.

“It’s important to get her right”, says Ananth in between cautious sips of his Martini, “because she’s so comfortable in her skin”, and yet “completely in control, she’s not apologetic, she’s not guilty, she’s completely aware of the men around her and the effect she has on them”.

Nargis Fakhri is his verdict, for as it turns out on further reading of the book, more reasons than one.

I point out to Ananth, an error I noticed in the e-book I purchased, which talked of Cara’s breasts fitting neatly into a Champagne flute, whereas I assume he meant a Champagne Saucer! He’s aware of the error, and indicates that it’s been changed, but maybe it hadn’t been done yet on the e-book. Says he, “it does look strange, we’re not in a fairy tale, that would be quite a breast, you can suck on it if not anything else, it will be a teat, not a tit”. Rumour has it that Marie Antoinette’s breasts (her left one if you’re curious) were used for the first mould of the champagne saucer, so Cara is clearly in interesting company.

Sid’s favourite choice of spirit is rum, and no surprises, so it is for Ananth also. He had his first shot of Old Monk in 1993 at the start of his career which began with working for Landmark in Chennai. His dad and his brother were both whisky drinkers, but he never liked the taste of whisky, he just stuck to rum. Rum, ice and a bit of Coke, with the combination of ice and Coke flexible. “If it’s a long evening, I’ll start with more rum, if it’s a short evening, I’ll start with more Coke.”

Ananth prefers dark rum, “but if I’m going to have more than one, I prefer the white, and that’s because of my constitution. 2 pegs of dark rum play hell with my body when I get up in the morning v/s the white.” Old Monk and Old Cask are both favourite rums of his, and so are Bacardi and Captain Morgan. He also likes Gosling and Sailor Jerry, from the UK, and of course, Ron Zacapa. I recommend to him a great rum bar in Notting Hill called Trailer Happiness, and Ananth promises to look out for it on his upcoming trip to London.

Ananth claims not to have any favourite bars, he’s more a restaurant guy, food and alcohol in that order, with Conversation completing the sandwich. He does have a preference, however for bars which are really high up, and comments favourably on a bar on the 32nd floor in Tokyo, from where you can see the whole city. The thing about a lot of bars in London and New York (and also in Cocktails & Dreams) is that the music doesn’t intrude, “you can’t even talk to each other, I’m not a fan of places which are loud for the sake of being loud.”

How about making out in bars?, I ask him, maybe it can be a plot line for his next book. Says Ananth, with the off the cuff humour which has come to characterise our chat, “It can be wet and wild. Maybe we could call it the Extra Large Club”.

Play with me, also features an ad agency head honcho called Chandramukhi Chaurasia, who Ananth claims is entirely a figment of his imagination, she’s pictured as moving through a party, trailed by a flunky holding her glass (with a 12yo Macallan Single Malt Whisky). Says Ananth, “when I thought about someone who works in an ad agency I thought about what he / she might drink, and I felt as the chairperson (fictional) of JWT, she couldn’t be seen asking for a dark rum. My brother likes the Macallan 12yo, so I chose that for her”.

I asked Ananth if he’d been inspired by someone he’d come across to write the above scene, and he commented he’d never seen anyone like her. Once at a party, however Ananth politely enquired from a mini celeb, if she’d like a refill for her drink, and she replied, “sure, but not in the same glass please”, a reply which left Ananth gobsmacked, considering he didn’t even know the lady in question. Says he, “you remember these things, and whether you write or not, you remember them.. when people say writing is a solitary sport, at least it’s not for me, it’s not like I went away and sat in a room, you do have to write alone, but the moment I decided to take on this assignment to write, I started becoming more and more aware in a lot of ways, of what people do, of what people say, of what they mean, because ultimately you’re writing about people, there is no greater plot, I’m not writing Star Wars, so I started noticing many things slowly.“

Play with Me’s first print run of 7000 copies has all been shipped out, and it’s success is no surprise, for it’s set in a very new India, brash, confident, brand conscious, sexually aware, and with very little inhibitions to get what they want. A milieu, which speaks to the thousands of twenty and thirty somethings around us, and makes me wish I were born 10 years earlier than I was. As Ananth says, “it’s a story about pleasure, what pleasure can do to love and what love can do to pleasure”. Although I know it’s hard to get past the sex, it’s made me look at the youth I see around me in a new light, as I see little reason as to why characters like Sid, Cara and Natasha are not just flights of fantasy, but probably Rahul, Smita and Noelie in your workplace.

If you think Ananth’s shot his bolt, you’re mistaken. Book # 2 of what promises to be India’s own 50 shades, is already being plotted. Called Think With Me, Ananth wants to raise the bar on sensuality, and that’s going to get me for one, clicking on Buy.

Vikram Achanta

Vikram is the co-founder and CEO of Tulleeho, a drinks training and consulting firm and www.tulleeho.com, a drinks website. A first generation entrepreneur, he enjoys writing about beverages and is a regular columnist for a number of magazines and newspapers including Outlook, Outlook Business, The Man, Hospitality Biz India and Man’s World.