Dec 14

An afternoon with Amrut whisky, hosted by The Glass House

I was invited for a blogger gathering at the invitation of Amrut Distilleries, makers of the renowned Amrut Single Malt whisky. I had heard of the brand, but never knew much about it nor had I ever tasted it. It’s not easy to find it in liquor stores and I think I have seen their whiskys more at airport duty frees. Amrut XXX rum on the other hand, that’s far more common. None the less, we were asked to come for a tasting session to be held at The Glass House on Lavelle Road.

The Glasshouse Lavelle road Bangalore

There was a bit of space across from The Glass House to park my bike

The Glasshouse lounge restaurant Bangalore

This was my first time at The Glass House, and first impressions: “Wow!”

We were instructed to first go upstairs for the Amrut event.

Whisky sample glasses The Glasshouse

Upstairs, they had set up tables with 6 glasses per chair. So clearly a tasting session is on hand — but 6 varieties?

The Glasshouse lounge Lavelle road

Then we were told we would have to move downstairs due to the music, which would make listening to the speakers difficult. We weren’t moving to the outer lounge.

Private room The Glasshouse Bangalore

Instead, they were setting up a table in the Private Dining Room which is often reserved for corporates or high-end clientele. (Ahem, for this afternoon, a bunch of low life bloggers)

Birds interior The Glasshouse Bangalore

The interiors at The Glass House were classy and minimalist to say the least

Wine cellar The Glasshouse Bengaluru

We had to wait a bit before they set up the new table, so I checked out The Glass House

Bar The Glasshouse Lavelle road

The Glass House is an authorized distributor for Amrut whisky, so yes, it’s on the bar menu

Deli chocolates The Glasshouse Bangalore

The Glass House has their own deli and make their own chocolates. And yes, those are chocolate shoes (Rs. 500 for one)

Whisky review table Glasshouse

When the table was set, we were asked to take our seats and the session would begin

After an introduction by the organizers from Lywd, the folks from Amrut Distilleries were introduced to us. In 2010, Amrut’s Fusion single malt whisky was named “third best whisky in the world” by renowned whisky connoisseur Jim Murray in his 2010 edition of the ‘Whisky Bible’. A impressive recognition for an Indian brand, and for a nation that’s not really known for producing whisky, despite actually being one of the largest producers of whisky by the numbers.

In fact, Amrut didn’t really start out making premium whisky. Although the company has been around 1948, it wasn’t until the Chairman’s son, Rakshit Jagdale, who was doing his Masters in UK, decided to to sample the market there and investigate the potential of exporting Amrut Single Malt whisky to the UK.

Amrut whisky ambassador

The man who led the session was Ashok Chokalingham, from Amrut. Ashok was voted “World whisky ambassador” in 2012. Again, quite an achievement for an Indian.

Ashok explained to us the process of evaluating whiskys. On how to smell it, taste and how to pick up the various fragrance notes in a whisky’s taste. I never realized our nostrils pick up smells differently… until Ashok told us to smell the whisky using one nostril first, and then the other. For me, my right nostril sensed a stronger smell than my left nostril. What do you know, you learn something about your own body everyday!

On the scoring sheet, we had to describe how it smelt, how it tasted, the balance (as in, if one flavour was stronger than any other) and finish (how long the taste lasted on our tongues). Then we had to guess how aged the whisky was and whether it was Indian or foreign.

With the primary education over, we began tasting. We had 6 glasses in front of us, but guess what, they weren’t all Amrut whisky. They didn’t tell us which glasses contained Amrut whisky(s). Each blogger was given a score sheet where we had to note down our impressions of each whisky we sampled.

We would pause in between every whisky tasting to assess what flavours we got out of each sip. Here’s another thing to try out when you drink whisky. Take a whiff (smell) after pouring it into a glass. Now cover the glass top with your hands and keep it closed for a few minutes. Now remove your hand and smell the whisky. The smell was so much stronger than when I first smelled it. It just hits you!

After we had sampled all six glasses, it was now time to reveal which glass was which whisky.

Scoring sheet whiskys

This is how I scored. The highest score I gave was a 35 out of 40, to whisky number 6. So I hoped it would be from Amrut, otherwise it would have been embarrassing! :)

Amrut whisky revealed

By the time they revealed bottle no. 6, it was not only Indian, it was most definitely Amrut!

Whisky no. 6 was Amrut’s award winning Peated Indian Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength. Sadly, I ranked the Amrut’s Fusion Indian Single Malt Whisky (glass no. 3), my second lowest. Maybe it just wasn’t for me. The second highest score I gave was for whisky no. 4 — which turned out to be Jim Beam’s! Funny, considering I didn’t think much about Jim Beam’s when I first tried it a few years ago. The other whisky brands were Glenmorangie, Johnny Walker Black label and one other that I can’t recollect now. The fact that I chose Amrut’s Peated Single Malt over Johnny Walker Black label shows you just how good that whisky is.

Throughout the session Ashok, Rakshit and Vikram from Amrut Distilleries would tell us the challenges they faced when trying to convince the world that India could produce whisky that was very good. Most foreigners who tried Amrut couldn’t believe it when they were told what they were drinking was from Bangalore, India! And because of the climatic conditions, Amrut whiskys aren’t aged as long as Scotch.

India has always had its share of underdog stories. I guess Amrut’s Single Malt whisky story isn’t any different. Although Amrut was mostly export-oriented with its Single Malt whisky, it has recently, tried to get more bottles into Indian liquor stores and ramp up production to keep up with demand.

Rohinton Motahed The Glasshouse water

This is Rohinton Motahed, director at RSP Gourmet Foods, the company that operates The Glass House. After the whisky session, he told us about all that his company was into, including the bottled spring water brand, Mulshi, which is named after the region in Maharashtra it originates from.

Rohinton spoke about the inspiration behind the design of The Glass House. Minimalism, if it wasn’t evident from the photos, was key. The entire structure is glass (duh), steel and concrete — and that includes the furniture.

Chef The Glasshouse Bengaluru

Rohintan then introduced The Glasshouse’s head chef, Preeteesh. The chef would give us a talk on what inspired the menu as the appetizers rolled in.

Goatcheese breadsticks The Glasshouse Bangalore

First up was goatcheese on breadsticks, coated with corn flakes. This was yum!

Red wine cured beef Glasshouse restaurant

This was red wine cured beef beef carpaccio. Rather tasteless in my opinion. Tore the minute you touched it and it barely registered in my tummy.

Brinjal wraps lamb sliders The Glasshouse food

Left: Stuffed mini eggplant roulade with hummus — tasted just okay; Right: Lamb and jalapeño sliders — gooood

Mango chicken fish tapas

Left: Chicken coated with mango sauce. No, not raw mango but ripened mango. Trust me, it worked! Right: Deep-fried basa fish bits on crunchy wafers. Okay, nothing special.

Margharita ultra thin crust Pizza

Finally, The Glass House is famous for its ultra-thin crust pizza. This was the margharita cheese pizza.

Like the design, the food on the menu is minimalistic too. The chef told us most dishes on the menu comprise of no more than 3-5 ingredients. All the breads and desserts are made in-house. The menu is largely European and the food is all very gourmet. Yes, The Glass House is a bit on the high end. Then again, given the location and if you couldn’t already tell from the looks of the place, you kind of expect that.

Coming back to Amrut whisky, I regret not taking a photo of the bottle. The thought never crossed my mind because when I saw that they were going to hand out bags to each blogger, I assumed the bags contained a bottle of Amrut whisky for us to take home. Turned out they were just Amrut branded whisky glasses. And by the time I thought of taking a photo of the open bottles they had, the whisky in it was all gone. Would have been nice if they displayed their entire range there for us to at least take photos.

Amrut Indian whisky range

I pulled this image off the web. The Peated whisky that I liked the most is on the extreme left. Next to that is their regular Single Malt.

I also forgot to ask about pricing but they told me prices for Amrut whisky begin at Rs. 2200 and go up with each variant.

Now, I’m no whisky connoisseur, but I love the art of such things like the process of making whisky or beer. Appreciating the science behind the making whisky and its finer points was the bigger take away I had from this taste session by Amrut. I learned things like, it is caramel that is used to give whisky (and other spirits) its dark brown colour. And using caramel as a natural colouring is perfectly legal. Also, every distillery uses demineralized water to reduce the strength of alcohol.

Amrut Distilleries also organizes distillery tours at their facility off Mysore Road, which the company representatives described as “one amazing experience”. Hope I get to check it out one day.

Dec 14

Philippines 2014: Pahiyas Festival in Lucban; Kamay Ni Hesus

Date: May 15th 2014

I had to wake up really early to board a bus going to Lucena. I boarded one from near Araneta Center and made up for lost sleep for much of the journey. At around 8am, I woke up when the bus was moving very slowly along the highway.

We reached Lucena Grand terminal and from there, boarded a jeepney going to Lucban, where the Pahiyas Festival was on in all its colourful glory.

Lucban jeepney Lucena station

It was going to be another 30 minute ride from Lucena to get to Lucban

The jeepney stopped a bit far out from the Lucban village/town. We were asked to get down and to get to Lucban proper, where the Pahiyas festivities were taking place, we had to take tricycle taxis! So a third ride later, again, we were dropped outside the village/town. Now we had to walk.

Shakeys on wheels Lucban Philippines

Shakey’s had this enormous bus serving food

Sleeping child being carried Philippines

It was very hot and we had to walk a bit

Lucban Pahiyas festival entrance

The roads had been blocked and vehicles could not enter

Decorated house Pahiyas festival

Right away I could see the decorated houses

Pahiyas festival older women Philippines

Pahiyas Festival being a harvest festival, people decorate their houses with vegetables, fruits, rice grains and other produce

Pahiyas festival decorated house

The Pahiyas Festival in Lucban is also noted for how colourful the decorations are

Decorated balcony Pahiyas Lucban

The best decorated houses win prizes

Decorated tall house Pahiyas festival

This was probably the tallest house I saw all covered up

Stuffed carabao Pahiyas festival

At the bottom, the house owners had placed a rather big carabao (stuffed), whose head was being controlled by strings pulled from residents on the upper floor

Children posing with Carabao Lucban

The kids were loving it (taken using the GoPro)

Pahiyas festival girl Lucban Philippines

Lots of posing going on

Decorated houses Pahiyas festival Philippines

Word of advice to photographers: if you wish to capture the houses in its true glory, come really early in the morning

Kiping rice leaves for sale

These are the edible kiping. Made of ground rice, and despite all the colouring, they are rather tasteless

Kids looking out window Pahiyas Lucban

And everybody uses kiping as a decoration

Couple selfie Pahiyas festival Philippines

Lots of selfies were taken this day

Pahiyas festival house designs

Some houses were trying out different designs

Stuffed people Pahiyas

More stuffed figures. Their hands were being tugged by strings.

Hare Krishna Iskcon band Philippines

This was some Philippines branch of the Hare Krishna/Iskcon singing a rather melodious chant which had everyone grooving

Longganisang Lucban sausages Pahiyas festival

This is on the other hand is Lucban longganiza, a popular sausage from this region

Pahiyas festival celebrations Lucban

I like this photo

Crowds in front houses Pahiyas festival

I couldn’t even take a clear photo of these houses because of the crowds in front of it

Sunflower design Pahiyas festival Lucban

I took this shot in a split second…

Sunflower tourists Lucban Philippines

… because otherwise it would look like this

Lucban village Pahiyas crowd

I don’t know how many houses were taking part in the contest, but I sure as hell couldn’t see all of them

San Isidro Pahiyas festival house decoration

San Isidro is the patron saint of farmers in whose honour Pahiyas festival is celebrated

Colourful balcony decoration Pahiyas

That’s some really nice work done on decorating the balcony

Vegetable decoration harvest festival Philippines

Some houses used a lot of vegetables for decorations

Marca vinegar house decoration Pahiyas

Corporate brands had taken over some of the houses too

Girl rice grains Pahiyas Philippines

Hello girl

Pahiyas festival Lucban corner panorama

A panorama

Lucban house Pahiyas festival tourists

Same house? Or two?

Vegetables harvest festival Pahiyas Lucban

I just kept walking around the many blocks

Decorated homes Pahiyas festival Philippines

Lots of bananas and coconuts used in this one

Harvest decorated house Lucban Philippines

Now this was impressive!

Hat decorated house Lucban Philippines

One of the more interesting designs I saw

Umbrellas sunny Lucban Philippines

If you couldn’t make out from the umbrellas — it was scorching hot!

Colorful hats Pahiyas decoration

Green, yellow and red were most prominent colours

Pahiyas 2014 house stall Lucban

Aside from kiping, the only thing I constantly bought were juices and water to keep myself hydrated

Corner houses Lucban Philippines

One side a participating side, the other not participating

Pahiyas float Lucban Philippines

Variety in decorations always garner attention

Pahiyas festival GoPro

I would use my GoPro every once in a while

Yellow green red house Pahiyas

Another tall house all done up

Crowded streets Pahiyas festival Lucban

Some stretches of the road were just too crowded

Empty street Pahiyas Lucban

Which made sights like this all the more welcoming to me

Tourists posing Pahiyas statue Philippines

Generational interests well summed up by this photo. A man poses by a traditional female figure, the young girl poses with characters from Frozen (a hit Walt Disney movie for those unaware)

I didn't know what fruit this was

I didn’t know what fruit this was

Church of Saint Louis Lucban Philippines

Church of Saint Louis, the main church in Lucban

Church hall Saint Louis Lucban-philippines

Prayers were in full strength

Pahiyas festival tshirt Lucban

Pahiyas festival t-shirt on sale

Lucban market Philippines

I guess I was in the public market now

Tourists visit house Pahiyas festival

During the festival, some houses are open to visitors and you can just go in. I went inside this house, but didn’t take any photos from inside (that would be invading their privacy)

Yellow wall hanging banana Lucban

By now I had seen enough house decorations

Leaving Lucban Philippines

I really didn’t feel like walking around more because the heat was getting to me and I felt I had seen enough

Here’s a brief video I took while walking around:

Lucban village stream Philippines

I had to walk all the way back to the main road

Carriage carabao Lucban Philippines

That’s a real carabao pulling this float

Traffic Lucban Philippines

There were still some making their way to Lucban, but many making their way out

Southern Luzon State University Lucban

Southern Luzon State University

I boarded a jeepney and made my way to the next stop — Kamay ni Hesus (“hesus” is Jesus, pronounced in Spanish).

Kamay ni Hesus entrance Lucban

Kamay ni Hesus is a popular attraction at Lucban

Kamay ni Hesus hill Lucban Philippines

It’s basically a statue of Jesus atop a hill

Garden of Eden Kamay ni Jesus Lucban

I entered the Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden Noah Ark replica Philippines

And yes, that is a replica of Noah’s Ark

Steps Kamay ni Jesus Lucban Philippines

I began the climb up.

Climbing Kamay ni Hesus hill Lucban

You walk up in a criss cross manner

Crosses kamay ni hesus lawn Lucban

I guess the climb is to represent making your way up to heaven

Kamay ni Jesus statue Lucban Philippines

And when you finally reach heaven, Jesus welcomes you with his open arms. Kamay ni Hesus means “Hands of Jesus”.

Lucban view from Kamay ni Hesus

The view from up here

Trees Lucban Philippines

Lots and lots of trees

Lucban from Kamay ni Jesus Philippines

I guess that’s where I spent my morning

Kamay ni Christ statue Lucban Philippines

Goodbye Jesus

Climbing down Kamay ni Christo Lucban

Time for me to head back down to earth

And that was it. My day at Lucban was over. I boarded a jeepney going back to Lucena Grand terminal. I had picked up lunch from a Jollibee at the bus depot before boarding the bus back to Manila. It was a long journey, getting stuck in traffic towards Manila and finally arriving back at the hostel only past sunset. I was tired and lacking sleep, but I guess it’s a good thing I forced myself to get out of bed early. Pahiyas Festival was a bit of a cultural experience that was sorely missing in all my travels across the Philippines, so it was good that I chose to visit Lucban.

This is also the second last post in this series. Kind of makes me sad to know there is just one final post left to write about in this Philippines series :(

Previous post(s) in this series:

Philippines 2014: Manila Chinese Cemetery

Philippines 2014: Corregidor Island tour

Philippines 2014: Bargain shopping in Manila; Paseo de Santa Rosa & Solenad

Philippines 2014: Japanese tunnel; leaving Davao for Manila

Philippines 2014: Scuba diving for the first time, at Samal Island (Davao)

Philippines 2014: Philippine Eagle Center, Davao

Philippines 2014: Attractions at Eden Nature Park… and getting lost

Philippines 2014: Sky Cycle at Eden Nature Park, Davao

Philippines 2014: Leaving Cebu for Davao; Davao City sights

Philippines 2014: Tumalog Falls; Oslob church, Cuartel

Philippines 2014: Oslob – Swimming with whale sharks

Philippines 2014: Trek to Mount Pinatubo crater lake

Philippines 2014: The itinerary this time around; UP Diliman and Maginhawa

My Philippines journeys: 2011 series | 2013 series

Nov 14

Philippines 2014: Manila Chinese Cemetery

Date: May 14th 2014

After my Corregidor island tour, I took a break the following day to do some shopping in Manila. Today, I chose to spend my afternoon checking out Manila’s Chinese Cemetery. My ‘first’ Pinay friend Aimee told me about the cemetery and she suggested I check it out. That was back in 2011. Well, three years later, here I am.

Getting to the Chinese Cemetery wasn’t as easy. I mean, if you get to Abad Santos station, you will see the cemetery right away… but it’s finding the right entrance that’s the challenge. I got down at Abad Santos but when I couldn’t find an entrance nearby, I asked the staff at the LRT and they told I had to go to R. Papa, the very next station! Annoyed, I took the train to R.Papa.

Manila Chinese cemetery North Gate

I walked out of R. Papa station, by the road… and all I saw were the closed gates at the north entrance. Ugh.

Boundary wall Chinese cemetery Manila

I wondered how the heck I could get in. There was no one I could ask either.

Annoyed, I walked back and found myself walking through a barangay(?).

Manila barangay fiesta decorations Philippines

I just kept walking around assuming there would be an entrance to the cemetery somewhere behind

Stage barangay event Manila

But I couldn’t go much further because the road was blocked with this stage set up

Kids barangay Manila Philippines

So I walked back

I walked back to R. Papa where a bunch of tricycle taxi drivers accosted me asking where I want to go. I didn’t feel like wasting time anymore so I just hopped into one, bargained it down to 30 pesos and asked the guy to take me to the right entrance of the Manila Chinese Cemetery.

Manila Chinese Cemetery south gate entrance

The tricycle rode all the way back to Abad Santos station and then passed it to take a left. Another left turn and voila: I was at the right entrance!

The security guard at the entrance asked me where I was from and I replied saying I’m not from media, just a tourist. There is no entrance fee or anything, so one can just walk in. But as soon as I went in, a older guy approached me and asked me if I wanted a guide. He said he would show me around the cemetery in a bike and tell me all about the people buried here. How much? ₱800 (₹1100/$17/€14) he said. I said no. I even asked him if he was an official guide here.

I walked further inside… and another “guide” approached me. He offered to take me around for just ₱400. At this point I was doubting these “guides”. So I just said no to the second guy as well. Then this second fellow went and urinated beside a grave house.

Man peeing Manila Chinese Cemetery

I’m not kidding. That’s the guy, in red, peeing outside someone’s grave.

Manila Chinese Cemetery houses

Oh, by the way, these are not houses… but graves

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