Invoking the spirit of Scotland
Preview the oldest whisky festival in the world, in the city this weekendby Prachi Joshi
Every spring, whisky enthusiasts from all over the world gather in the Speyside region of Scotland for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. “This is the oldest whisky festival in the world and takes place over six days at the end of April. There are more than 120 distilleries in Scotland and half of them are in Speyside, so it’s the biggest whisky producing region,” says Swati Sharma, co-founder of the Dram Club. First launched in 1999, the 21st edition of the festival this year will celebrate Scotland’s national drink from April 29 to May 4. And for the first time, Mumbai will get a taste of the festival (and Speyside whiskies) today.
Spreading the gospel
Sharma co-founded The Dram Club in March 2019 along with Vinayak Singh, a fellow whisky lover. “Early last year, we went on a trip to Scotland where we visited quite a few distilleries. What really inspired us was the entire tasting experience, the way they talk about their heritage and philosophy of whisky making, the way they have these small stories about the history of the distillery, etc. It’s not an education, it’s more like storytelling,” says Sharma. The duo wanted to replicate the experience in India so they began curating events for acquaintances that were whisky aficionados. “The feedback was really good so we started doing it in a more formal way. We are a neutral platform and we don’t try to push any brand. It’s a more inclusive way of educating people and advocating about whisky rather than any particular kind. We have done 20 events in the last one year,” elaborates Sharma.
Flavour and balance
Both Sharma and Singh attended the Spirit of Speyside Festival last year. Over the course of six days, each of the 50-odd distilleries opens its doors to visitors (even those that are not generally open to the public) and curates unique events.
“For example, we tried a whisky and beer pairing done by Gordon & MacPhail Distillery and Windswept Brewery. There were five whiskies and five beers that worked very well with each other in terms of flavour and balance like a heavily sherried whisky that’s sweet, rich, and creamy was paired with a bitter stout beer that enhances the flavours of the whisky. Or a Game of Thrones-themed blind tasting that happened at Cardhu,” explains Sharma.
Many distilleries release limited edition festival whiskies that you can only buy during the festival. The Speyside Whisky Awards are also held during the festival. “There are four categories and each distillery sends in their nominations. Out of the 60-65 nominations that come in, an expert panel shortlists it down to eight finalists. These are voted in a blind tasting globally at different places at different times of the year,” he says.
Raising a toast
“When we started discussing about bringing the festival to India, the initial thought was to only have the blind tasting (for the awards) because it had never happened here before. As we spoke to brands, the idea emerged that maybe we should create a day that celebrates whisky where people get a feel of the festival itself,” shares Sharma. The festival will kick off with a four-course whisky-paired lunch featuring Glenlivet whiskies of different age statements. “Glenlivet 21 was one of the winners last year and the brand ambassador is coming down. Also, we have got Chef Sarita Pereira (of The Lovefools, a Mumbai-based supper club) on board to curate the lunch,” says Sharma. This will be followed by three whisky masterclasses with Glenfiddich, Amrut, and Paul John. “Amrut and the Dram Club are associating for the first time for this festival. Also Paul John’s head distiller is coming over and will be showcasing two new whiskies that will officially release at the festival,” says Sharma.
There will also be a Glen Grant masterclass pairing whiskies with desserts that complement the flavours. The highlight of the festival is the blind tasting and voting for Speyside Whisky Awards. This will be done over three sessions with batches of 20 voters each.
Spoilt for choice
What’s next for The Dram Club? Sharma says that the Speyside Whisky Festival will become an annual event. They are also working on curating an Indian version of whisky awards. “Many new brands are exploring the Indian market. With the influx of Taiwanese and Japanese whiskies and also new Scotch whiskies, we are spoilt for choice. The awards will have the Indian consumer voting for whiskies that are available in the country”, explains Sharma. The Dram Club will continue to curate whisky experiences and will add a few women-only events. “About 50-60% of our usual event audience is women. The perception that whisky is a man’s drink is changing worldwide. Also, women are more open to trying different things; men sometimes tend to get a bit stuck up saying I only drink an 18-year-old or a 20-year-old whisky or only a particular brand, but there could be better whiskies from independent bottlers”, concludes Sharma.
The Speyside Whisky Festival is today at The Park Mumbai, Juhu; more details on insider.in; more information on thedramclubmumbai.com or on Instagram @thedramclubmumbai.