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.

Nov 14

India’s youth needs to get laid, like seriously

This post is entry for an Indiblogger contest sponsored by Poonaam Uppal’s True Love – A Mystical True Love Story, for which the contest topic was “Yes or No to Pre-marital Sex?”

Short answer: Yes to pre-marital sex.

I could end the topic just like that, but then again, you’d probably want to hear an explanation from my perspective, right?

Well, here is my opinion. It’s the sexual frustration that — predominantly men — in this country have, that seems to cause all sorts of unnecessary societal problems. Yes, I do believe some potential rapists out there can be eliminated if such men had access to consensual sex to satisfy their cravings. Although, I stress that prostitution can only satisfy some men. After all, rape is ‘free’ — prostitution costs money. But I digress, that’s another topic.

It’s not just sexual contact, but the lack of any form of contact with the opposite sex that makes men truly messed up — from harassment of women to totally not understanding the opposite sex at all. I speak from the guy’s point of view a lot because, a) I’m a guy myself, and b) men harass women far more than women harass men. The sad part is that this type of social conditioning manifests at an early age too.

In many of our schools (not the one I went to), the sexes are segregated at a very early age. Girls sit separate, boys sit separate. This continues all the way up to college. Yes, some colleges still practice such segregation! This distancing of the sexes manifests a sexual misunderstanding of the other sex. Women are shunned for getting close to men, and men have a lack of understanding of not only a woman’s biology, but even how to talk to them. So as they enter their teens, such men get all the wrong lessons about sex from pornography and mere hearsay about what they think is how women are. Women on the other hand are condemned if they lose their virginity before marriage — especially in our country. And then these two sexes meet, mostly through an arranged marriage.

Picture a typical Indian arranged marriage. You barely know your partner. Your parents filtered the selection process mostly to their liking, you meet your future partner a few times before marriage, and now you are told you have to spend the rest of your life with each other. How is a woman’s first night with a man she barely knows any different than a prostitute’s first night on the job? If that’s a harsh comparison, I’m sorry, it does feel that way for a lot of women who have yet to develop a true emotional connection with the man they were told to marry. And there are studies out there that prove young people who take abstinence pledges have trouble adjusting to sexual norms post marriage.

There’s nothing wrong if people who want to wait for marriage to have sex. It’s entirely up to them — even better if it is a mutual decision. But the other reason why I am “for” pre-marital sex is also to avoid the realization that many couples face waiting for marriage to experience sex. For some, it’s the disappointment after all that waiting and hopes they for an amazing sexual experience… it turned out to be a whimper the first few times. For the majority, it’s the notion of realizing sex is great, but now they have to contend with the fact they are stuck with one sexual partner for the rest of their lives. Regretting they could have done it others when they chance before marriage. This is one among the many reasons that drives infidelity in the future.

The other support for pre-marital sex, in my opinion, is to stop making a big deal about sex! We all have this amazing notion about sex, and it’s largely positive. When you really experience it — it can go either way. Reading the sex advice columns (some fake, many real concerns) you can get the impression that’s it’s not romantic or fantastical as it is portrayed in cinema, novels or even pornography. It’s not always a perfect experience, and this imperfection kills whatever notion about sex you may have previously had. This is where pre-marital sex can help: to set your expectations right.

I know, it’s a tough sell to convince many Indians (I’m talking outside of the cities and the liberal urban crowd) to even get them to talk about pre-marital sex, let alone consent to it. Even if someone wants to come out and be open about it, you have the “moral police” and dirty politics that will come down on you preaching morality and kulcha.

Nothing annoys me more than this hypocrisy, especially coming from men. I always reminded of an insensitive idiot who took to Twitter to blame rape on the way women dress, but a little digging up through his older tweets revealed how much this hot-blooded hypocrite loved Sunny Leone and Mallika Sherawat! It’s this male hypocrisy of pretending to be cultural and sanskaari that irritates me to no extent. Often times, these are the very men that crave sex so badly. Repressing anyone’s sexual cravings only has the opposite effect. It makes them desperate for it.

Even when Indiblogger announced this contest in partnership with Poonaam Uppal, the forum discussion on this topic brought about a few bloggers calling the topic of “pre-martial sex” offensive and unnecessary. “Think about the kids” was one guy’s pathetic excuse. My response to people like him is exactly that — “think about the kids”! It’s better that kids learn about safe sex and the use of condoms before they indulge in sex and get a girl pregnant. And if adults nowadays think that kids are clueless about sex, clearly they are so out of touch with how kids are these days. So if people, especially parents, aren’t going to talk about pre-marital sex, then you will just have entrust that responsibility to our ‘kids’ to do the talking themselves.

This is why I am pro pre-marital sex. Not just having pre-marital sex, but we should at least be talking about it. I mean, look at the sculptures on temples of Khajuraho…

Khajuraho sexual sculptures

… you think all this was inspired by a married couple’s honeymoon?!

If our ancestors could enjoy pre-marital sex, why are we — in this day and age — shunning even talking about pre-marital sex? In this country, buying condoms at a pharmacy is an embarrassing act for many men. Which gives them the excuse for unprotected sex, something many girls aren’t comfortable with prior to marriage. We’re a nation where the police ‘raid’ dance bars and treats prostitutes as criminals while doing nothing to stop the trafficking of women and children. Oh, Kareena Kapoor or Katrina Kaif can dance as bar girls to hugely popular item numbers that become so popular kids will dance to the very same songs on TV dance competitions, much to the adulation and support of the adults tuning in.

Enough with this Indian hypocrisy. India’s youth (especially) need to experience sex before marriage. Just so they can get the lust for sex out of the way and leave marriage for more meaningful and longterm responsibilities. The privacy and time required for sex becomes harder when you have children. More so if you live in a joint family household. Also, your body isn’t going to look any better as you cross your 30s, so why lose out on the chance to enjoy the most when you are young and more energetic?

Pre-marital sex isn’t just about satisfying a physical act, it’s also about shifting attitudes. All those critics of pre-marital sex seriously need to get ‘laid’ (an American expression to imply “having sex”). If they did, they would understand the joy, or disappointment, it brings and wouldn’t act so prudish henceforth about the topic. And that’s why I am “for” pre-marital sex. Not for the act itself, but the changes in attitude it brings towards the act of sex.

Jul 14

How a fragrance can help re-live your journeys

Our memories go beyond what we see. They include the senses we have encountered in the past too. The sounds, the smells, the feel of a hotel bed fabric, or even touching an animal you encountered at a zoo… they all remain a part of our travel memories. But in this post, let’s focus on the smells, shall we?

Fish sauceFrom my own travels, I have some good fragrances I wouldn’t mind capturing in a bottle and a few bad fragrances I want banished! Funnily, I’d like to start with a bad! :-) The smell of fish sauce. Eugh! Bangkok reeks of it. Fish sauce is a condiment used quite a bit in Thai & far-eastern cuisine and given the number of street side eateries in Thailand’s capital, the smell was everywhere. So much so that I now associate fish sauce with Bangkok more than any other place in the Far East. I hated the smell so much that whenever I order a Thai dish I ask them not to put in fish sauce.

It wasn’t all foul smell in Thailand though. There are innumerous stalls and street vendors selling crepes and what they refer to as roti. Essentially pancake batter used to make a variety of sweet savouries.

Chiang Mai Thai cream pancake street vendor

Crepes filled with cream, fruits, coconut… all yum

These crepes, rotis and pancakes gave a whiff off sweetness you could smell a mile away (figuratively speaking), which just drew you closer to the vendor.

As someone who grew up in the Middle East, if there is one distinct aroma that sums up the ‘Arabian atmosphere,’ it’s the warm fragrance of oud. It’s a strong scent and ubiquitous in Arabian perfume stores, and it’s not uncommon to get a whiff of it from a well-dressed Arab walking past you. Sure, agarwood, the main ingredient is quite expensive… but an oud-inspired fragrance would make for one heck of room freshener and instantly take you on a magic carpet to the Arab world!

Being a foodie, some of my fondest childhood memories were best remembered for the smells associated with them (and still do today).

Veg Thali

All the ingredients that make up a veg thali also make up the smell — the “pure veg smell” :-)

It was in Mangalore, that I first sat down at a darshini. I remember having a simple thali, but given that we as a family, rarely ate out in Bahrain, even this simple thali with its assortment of dishes and puris/rice was just fascinating to me the first time I saw it. But what I take away the most from the darshini was — you guessed it — the smell. It’s a mix of sweetness and vegetable masalas (I presume). The smell may also be a mix of fragrances coming off freshly made rasam, sambhar, fresh coffee/tea and straight-out-of-oil vadas! It’s hard to pin point the exact source, but anyone who eats at a busy darshini knows what that distinct smell is. I don’t know if that that smell could be captured in a bottle, but I sure wouldn’t mind waking up to it in the mornings at home!

KFC bucket

You gotta love the smell of KFC! (unless you are vegetarian)

When it comes to ‘non-veg’ smells that I still haven’t gotten tired of, it’s KFC. Fourteen secret herbs and spices or not, I remember walking past the KFC outlet in Bab Al Bahrain, in Manama (the capital is where we stayed) and wow… the smell that came out of that kitchen exhaust! It was soooo enticing!

Back to my foreign travels now. I remember the first time I stumbled upon a Chinese temple in Kuala Lumpur. What really drew me inside wasn’t really the temple itself. It was the aroma coming out of it.

It was the incense…
Sin Sze Si Sze Ya temple incense Kuala Lumpur

To be honest, I don’t know what exactly the fragrance or type of incense they were using was — but it surely didn’t smell ‘Indian’… and yet, somehow it still felt ‘Asian’. Funny how you associate smells with geographies.

Mithun Divakaran feet Baga beach Goa

(Those feet belong to me)

We all love the sea side. When I was in Goa in 2008 with my friends, I remember relaxing on a beach bench with a bottle of beer in my hand. Somehow, the blend of the ocean waves mixed with the beer… smelled quite nice. You could call it a true ‘holiday smell,’ as back home the only sensation you normally get from beer is the notion one has had too much to drink!

That said, if anyone can capture this final essence in a bottle, you can take all my money. Whether it is from India or abroad, it smells the same. You know the smell in the air after the first rains showers have fallen? The soil getting wet and the sudden freshness you feel in the air? I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like it, and the one thing it reminds me of no matter where I am in the world… is back home, in my village in Kerala, during monsoon season. Now that’s a fragrance I’ll never get tired of.

This entry was for an IndiBlogger contest sponsored by Godrej Aer. Visit: http://www.godrejaer.com/

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