Credit: Ajay Devgn
Credit: Ajay Devgn

Neat Stuff 19: Scotch and soda: Ajay Devgn battles for a bottle

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No jacket required Credit: Ajay Devgn
No jacket required
Credit: Ajay Devgn

Equally at ease in dramatic, action and comic leads, Indian movie star Ajay Devgn once bumped Tom Cruise from the nation’s theaters. The Hindi cinema icon has also shilled for everything from washing machines to whiskey, Dolly Mahayan of Exchange4Media reports in this nod to his 50th birthday.

On the whiskey front, Devgn’s poison is Diageo mainstay Bagpiper, which has enlisted his fellow Bollywood legends Sunny Deol, Shahrukh Khan and Ashok Kumar, too. The catch: advertising booze and tobacco is illegal in India, so brands must resort to surrogate campaigns. Hence this Bagpiper spot featuring Devgn as a badass biker in a tug-of-war with his parched rivals for a bottle of…soda water. Good to the last drop.

Time to pay the piper Credit: Diageo
Time to pay the piper
Credit: Diageo

Just the three of us

We’ve never sipped a Bagpiper, the No. 10 best-selling Indian whiskey last year, according to The Spirits Business. But to translate its tagline, we turned to a local source: “The party will flow when we three friends sit together—you, me and Bagpiper.”

Now over to this British chap, who threw a party for two during his bid to raise money for charity by trying 366 whiskies in as many days. As our friend points out, Indian distillers typically make their product from malt whiskey and a molasses spirits base, a combo that would never reach store shelves in most countries.

A colorful palate Credit: Diageo
A colorful palate
Credit: Diageo

Both ends of the spectrum

He isn’t sold on Bagpiper, basically calling it a sweet nothing, but India turns out some quality stuff. Just ask Whisky Advocate, which named Amrut Spectrum, another Diageo offering, its World Whisky of the Year in 2016.

“The beguiling chocolate and coffee aromas mingle with new oak, wood spices, fresh walnuts, treacle and mango peel,” Jonny McCormick wrote of the single malt. A velvety palate of lush red fruits, Gianduja chocolate, coffee, nut oils and oak tannins develops, leaving dry spices and ground coffee on the finish.” Now that’s a bottle worth fighting over.

Pot still life Credit: ASW Distillery
Pot still life
Credit: ASW Distillery

Blending in: Craft whiskey makers tap the big guys

Small is beautiful, right? Yes, but. At The Whiskey Wash, blender Nick Scarff notes that despite the recent boom, craft distilleries still only account for about 3% of the U.S. spirits market. To compete for what’s left after Sazerac and other titans take their cut, many craft whiskey makers get to market faster by blending and finishing aged distillate from big suppliers.

Blend haters may recoil, but brands going that route keep winning awards, Scarff says. “This is a prime example of how the narrative surrounding whiskey-making has become so convoluted that even some whiskey ‘experts’ don’t realize the overlap in techniques between the big guys and craft distilleries, who both blend for consistency.”

The spirit of Dublin is alive and well Credit: Teeling Whiskey Co.
The spirit of Dublin is alive and well
Credit: Teeling Whiskey Co.

Pluck of the Irish: A World Whiskies Awards upset for the ages

There’s a first time for everything—and that includes the World Whiskies Awards. At the 2019 edition, Teeling Whiskey Co. went where no Irish distiller had gone before by taking Best Single Malt for its 24-year-old Vintage Reserve. The Dublin-based outfit released only 5,000 bottles of this critical fave, aged in bourbon casks before a stint in Sauternes barrels.

OK, but how did Ireland keep Scotland off the podium? “Beautiful nose of orange peel, chocolate truffle and nuts. Caramel as well,” the judges said. “Full-bodied with fruity pineapple, honey and salted caramel. Creamy on the palate with hints of new leather. Long lasting finish with vanilla, fruity pear and apple notes.” Right.

Flower power Credit: Four Roses Distillery
Flower power
Credit: Four Roses Distillery

Sneaking into first place

Japanese whisky topped several taste categories, among them Best Blended Limited Release (Ichiro’s Malt & Grain) and Best Blended Whisky (21-year-old Suntory Whisky Hibiki). Best Rye? Germany’s no-age-statement Stork Club Straight Rye Whiskey.

Best Bourbon went to the 130th Anniversary 2018 Limited Edition Small Batch by Kentucky-based Four Roses. But we’re most intrigued by the World’s Best New Make, Curious peat-smoked malted from Denmark’s Stauning Whisky, partly because the tasting notes refer to a sneaker-esque rubberiness on the palate. Doesn’t sound like a shoe-in.

The chips are down Credit: Boston Public Library, Jack Daniel's, public domain
The chips are down
Credit: Boston Public Library, Jack Daniel's, public domain

Altered carbon: Why Tennessee whiskey tastes like no other

We’re big fans of science, especially when it helps us know our favorite drink better. To that end, some U.S. scientists have started to decode why Tennessee whiskey is a thing unto itself. Led by chemist John Munafo, these nerds recently identified aroma-active compounds that give the drink its unique flavor profile, Jennifer Ouellette of Ars Technica explains.

Although both bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are both barrel-aged delights made from corn, rye and barley, the latter usually gets extra charcoal filtering known as the Lincoln County Process before it goes into the cask. The source of that charcoal: local sugar maple trees.

Having identified the compounds crucial to the flavor profile of Tennessee whiskey before and after Lincoln, Munafo and his team showed that steeping in charcoal chips delivers a mellower taste—and a big change in chemical composition. For science’s sake, it may be time for a nip of Uncle Nearest 1856, winner of Best Tennessee Whiskey at the latest World Whiskies Awards.

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