Flavours of America: Interest and curiosity being shown towards Bourbon, rye whiskies are gaining traction in India

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American whiskies have always been a special product in a league of their own but they never entirely caught on in India which remained primarily a bastion of all drams Scottish. But of late, the interest and curiosity being shown towards Bourbon and rye whiskies are growing and gaining traction.

So, recently, when a friend of mine and I, in association with the US department of agriculture, put together a showcase of American spirits, we didn’t have much trouble finding the right people to invite. Also, we were fortunate to have the honourable Chargé d’Affaires (CdA) inaugurate the event who is a great brand ambassador for American produce.

The USDA has worked actively to promote American produce and just a few months ago, a similar showcase had been organised where we had the industry stalwarts, media and trade folk mingling over straight serves and some fun cocktails, including one made by the honourable CdA, no less.

This time around, we upped the ante and organised a sit-down tasting (comprising gins, whiskies and even Applejack) before opening it up into a cocktail format.

The pandemic seems to be waning, so the timing was just right to gather up the trade again and bring in a set of discerning consumers as well. The tasting showcased the flavours of North America, ranging from a floral gin to a range of whiskies, both Bourbon and rye, some even at cask strength, and finally a sip of the first spirit of America, apple brandy aka Applejack.

Now, what the Americans call proof (a term with a lovely origin story which I insist you look up online) can be halved to tell us the alcoholic strength ofthe beverage. So, 100 proof is 50% alcohol by volume, and so on. Most of the drinks we had here were 80 proof or higher, which meant, these tastings weren’t for the faint of palate. But, at the same time, these were exceptionally high quality spirits and didn’t need dilution with water or any mixer to make them more approachable. These were sipping spirits as opposed to mixing ones. The people worked their way through the line up and here are the few salient takeaways from the session.

Bourbon is ‘sweeter’, whereas rye is spicier. By sweet here, we mean the sweetness of corn, which isn’t the same as sugar. Yet, it imparts a certain freshness and ripeness which make it easy to like. Painted Stave Bourbon and Rye, two exemplary spirits which were showcased side by side, did a fine job of displaying this distinction.

Rye is spicy like a spice box in an Indian kitchen is spicy. It’s nothing that will burn your palate but it does stand out in cocktails. It takes some getting used to but is a much easier sip to enjoy over a long evening than other styles of whisky. The Catoctin Creek Cask Proof Rye was an absolute flavour bomb in the line-up. The owner, Beck Harris, is at the helm of the American Craft Spirits Association and has done much to further the reach and popularity of this industry.American gins and vodkas are also a growing category and everyone enjoyed the Painted Stave gin with its lush notes of lavender.

Applejack was a fun sip and the Laird’s straight Applejack was a lovely way to be introduced to this category. It worked well by itself but also lent itself to cocktails brilliantly.

Barrelsmith is a brand which makes premixed barrel-aged ready-to-serve cocktails. We were fortunate enough to try all three—Manhattan, Negroni, Boulevardier—and one would have been hard-pressed to guess correctly whether these were readymade drinks poured straight out of a bottle or mixed fresh by a trained mixologist. Finely balanced both for potency and sweetness, these were possibly the first bottles to run out.

So, there you have it, more reason to get on the American spirits bandwagon. There is a lot to discover by way of flavour and at all price points thereby making these extremely accessible and fun.

The writer is a sommelier