It is International Scotch Day today, and we’re sure that more than a few of you give a dram about the golden-brown nectar. So, we spoke to Greg Benson, mixologist and Dewar’s India brand ambassador, about all things whisky, starting with what makes a premium Scotch blend.
“I like to think of each single-malt as an instrument, and the art of blending them together into a Scotch rather like arranging an orchestra, where all the instruments from violins to cymbals come together to make something amazing,” says Benson, going all Bittersweet Symphony with his metaphors.
Having been brought up in Scotland (as you can tell from his accent, which is as broad and deep as a mountain glen), Greg is no stranger to a good whisky. But then hardly is India either. The brown liquor was imported by the case to quench the thirst of British officials in the heat of the Raj. Indeed, marijuana was criminalized in 1838, 1871, and 1877 by colonial authorities in order to push up liquor sales in the crown of the British Empire.
Speaking of the differences in how Scotch is consumed in India as compared to a place in the West, like Scotland, Benson has noticed two main differences. “Indians love having snacks and even full meals with their alcoholic drinks, while in Scotland, we mostly have drinks by themselves. That culture of eating something along with drinks is now creeping in to high-end bars and gastro-pubs, but it’s still not close to how people do it here. Secondly, people in Scotland mostly have their whisky neat, while here people have it with ice and or a splash of water and soda. I think that’s more because of the temperature factor. It can get quite hot and humid here, while Scotland is so cold that you don’t need to add anything to chill your drink,” says Benson, who admits it was largely this latter fact that led him to making a beeline for India’s sunny shores.
Speaking of what to drink your drink with, it would be remiss of us not to bring up the issue of how you exactly have a single-malt, or even a blended Scotch. Does one have it all by itself, or add a drop of water, or a couple of ice cubes, what? “The short answer is no. The long answer is still no, but it’s more nuanced. It’s mostly a generational thing. In the 1980s, whisky experts were purists and propounded the ‘one drop of water only’ idea. And you’ll still see older consumers sticking to it, at the most adding some soda or ice to their drinks. Younger consumers are more open to the idea of having their whiskeys in cocktails, and trying different combinations,” explains Benson
And he’d know. Over eight years now, Benson has worked at some of the best cocktail bars in Scotland and has completed an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt University, the most respected distillation degree in the world. Benson has sampled around 2000 different whiskies, so he knows what goes into a quality dram.