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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Lady Wants a Single Malt

Urban Indian women are acquiring a taste for single malts

Written by Sharon Fernandes | New Delhi |
March 27, 2011 11:36:28 pm

Once upon a time,the single malt snobs of the world would sink into leather-backed chairs,sip the golden liquid and chuckle over that dictum: no women,no soda. Drink it neat,and,no,it’s not for women.

Mamta Kochar,a senior government official in Delhi,pours a dram of golden Mackmyra Svensk into a glass,puts on some retro ’80s music,and laughs at that old,old line. “Why bother with what others say,” she says,before she goes on to Lesson 1 of single-malt appreciation class. “I see people at parties,they just gulp it down. Because it is expensive,it must be good,so let’s have a lot of it. But that is not how you taste it,” she says. “Savour the charcoal smell of the cask,hold it in your mouth for a while and then swallow.” The Mackmyra,a special 10th anniversary edition,sits with a Cardhu,a Lagavulin and a Glenfiddich in the 40-year-old’s bar.

Kochar was 30 and the mother of a child when she tasted her first single malt,and it was a taste she kept returning to. Now,she picks up a bottle or two whenever she travels out of the country,and,like most single-malt connoisseurs,opens it when she spends time with her close friends.

She is one among a growing number of women who are taking to single malts,and who are not far behind in the snobbery game. Carissa Hickling,41,from Mumbai who has over 20 years of experience in consulting,insurance and financial services,for instance,is not about to be awed by famous Scottish single malts. “You may say I am a malt snob. But there is a world out there apart from Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie,and we need more women to be educated about the various kinds of single malts,” says Hickling,who is one of three women in an exclusive single malt club in Mumbai called the Oak League.

For whisky drinkers,the single malt is the Cadillac of drinks,the most precious of status symbols. And here’s why: A barrel of single malt is made at one distillery,mostly from barley cultivated near the distillery itself,and put in casks to mature. Scotland is famous for single malts,and each region has its speciality: Speyside single malts are distilled in Strathspey,the area around the River Spey in northeastern Scotland. Cardhu,Balvenie and Glenlivet are some of the popular Speyside malts. Like wines,single malts are stored in oak barrels for years — the older the better. The 12-year-old Glenfiddich has elegant,rounded flavours and notes of fresh pear and subtle oak. The 15-year-old is intense with warm spice,honey and rich fruit flavours.

While there is no data on the number of Indian women drinking single malts,most bars in Delhi and other metros report that women ask for it — “on the rocks”,or “neat”. “Contrary to the popular belief of single malt being a man’s drink,India has seen an increasing number of women preferring single malt over other spirits. One of the main reasons for women not taking to single malts was its stereotypical image. But today’s woman is well-travelled and can appreciate it,” says Arvind Krishnan,general manager,marketing,Bacardi India. Adds Arindam Basu,general manager of Park Hotel,Delhi: “Softer malts like the Balvenie or the Glenkinche,and some smokey ones like Laphroaig are very popular with women.”

The initiation into single-malt love is always a matter of much mythologising. For Taniya Sahni,a media professional in Delhi,it began with watching her father pour a peg for himself,and a tentative sip now and then. But it was a whisky tour in Ediburgh in 2008 that got this 28-year old hooked. “I got to taste a Glenfiddich 18-year-old,and I got to know about how you must appreciate the layers of taste in a single glass,” says Sahni.

For 37-year-old Aparna Batra,the marketing director for William Grant & Sons,the company which markets Glenfiddich and Balvenie in India,it also began at home. “My mother and grandmother both enjoyed their single malts. My husband and his parents are all avid malt connoisseurs. So,I guess the journey for me has been rather expected,” she says.

For Hickling,now quite the connoisseur,the first experience of single malt wasn’t the smoothest. “I did not begin to appreciate single malts till very recently,say four or five years ago. I think age is part of the equation. Once you are done with your sweet fizzy drinks,you want something that you can appreciate for its mature taste,” she says.

Till a couple of years ago,a big hurdle was the unavailability of single malts at the local liquor store. One either had to get them at duty-free stores at international airports,or depend on the largesse of friends living abroad. But that seems to be changing. Joylita Saldanha,a software professional from Bangalore,buys her bottle of Glenmorangie from a store in the city. “I drink it with most of my friends. There are definitely more women whisky drinkers around today,” she says.

Like Batra,Manmeet Lamba,marketing manager at Edrington Group,the makers of Macallan and Highland Park malts,agrees that the demand for single malt is growing among women. “We hope that,in the years to come,the gap between men and women buyers will diminish. Also,we need to remember one aspect. Single malt is an extremely niche market. In this segment,we do not look at quantity but at quality of consumers,” says Lamba.

But what should really make single malts popular with women is that it is not a party drink to get hammered with. “Apart from the flavour,the colour and everything that makes a malt special,” says Keshav Prakash,the 40-year-old founder of the club that Hickling is a part of,“a single malt is a great conversation starter. You cannot have that with vodka,” he says. Agrees Hickling: “You cannot have a good malt without having a good conversation,” she says. And which woman can let that temptation go by?

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