The Economic Times

London falling for whisky: Bartenders and distillers on full swing

In London, whisky is the new cool as bartenders and distillers try to make the dark spirit less stiff, more fun.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2019, 10.53 AM IST|Original: Feb 09, 2019, 11.30 PM IST
Old Fashioned comes with a twist.
The Yard in Shoreditch was once an industrial warehouse. Now, it is a chic venue, neighbouring east London’s trendiest bars, which can be transformed into anything you like. Today, ears of barley hang from the ceiling, imitating a giant chandelier, giving the room the feel of an experimental art gallery, while glasses and pipettes on long tables make it seem like a chemistry lab set for experiments of another kind. It is only fitting that this is the venue for a private tasting of whiskies led by celebrity Scotch-maker Bill Lumsden, often dubbed the “mad scientist” of the dark drink.

Lumsden is making us taste his latest creation, the Glenmorangie Allta (Gaelic for “wild”), a limited edition whisky he has created from yeast growing wild on barley, putting the focus on a hitherto neglected ingredient in single malts — yeast. When you think of beer, you think of yeast; but when you think of whisky, you usually think about the wood in which the whisky is aged.
Irish Coffee at Brigadiers, which has a whisky-dispensing machine.

As we taste the Allta, the flavours are interesting: buttery, of cake or biscuits, fruity. These are quite different from Scotch’s serious and masculine “wood and leather” image. It is proof that whisky is lightening up, trying to be more inclusive, appealing to younger, gender-neutral consumers with innovations in taste. “Innovation is important, there are new flavours being discovered globally and new consumers,” says Lumsden, who says bluntly that only single malt aged between eight and 18 years is at its best; “beyond that the wood takes over, it is usually a disappointment”.

In London, Lumsden is not the only one trying to make whisky less intimidating and less masculine. In the city, hitherto the epicentre of the artisanal gin, whisky is back in fashion. Bartenders, experts and event makers are all making the dark spirit less stiff. Private tastings, pop-ups and curated Burns dinners (after Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns) are all making whisky the new cool.

For the first time in 100 years, perhaps, London is distilling its own whiskies as small-batch gin makers turn their attention to whiskies. The London Distillery Company, established in 2011 and known for its gin, has been quietly working on its rye whisky that released this January. Another artisanal gin producer, East London Liquor Company, is making an ambitious whisky in a car park, set for an autumn release.

Black Rock’s table is fashioned out of an oak trunk that ages its blends.

These micro distilleries signal a revival of interest in whisky in a gin-obsessed world; a trend that could spread to the rest of the world. Bars are making Old Fashioned in newer, more delicious ways. The uber-chic The Vault has a cardamom Old Fashioned.

Black Rock is a subterranean space for just 30-35 people where you are encouraged to choose your spirits from cabinets organised by flavour profile (smoke, fruit, spice) and then sit at a long, communal, glasstopped table, fashioned out of the trunk of a 185-year-old oak, inside which the bar’s own blend is ageing.

If whisky is dominating London’s bar culture, another notable trend is the emergence of aperitivo bars, where fancy bites (wood-fired artichokes and crispy polenta) are as much the highlights as are cocktails. Brigadiers, the latest from Karam Sethiled JKS Restaurants, which owns Gymkhana and Hoppers, among others, has a whisky-dispensing machine, cocktails on tap, champagne fountains and kegs that can be pre-ordered. However, the menu, inspired by military canteens of the Indian Army, is even more spectacular.

“My grandfather was a brigadier in the 4th Gorkha Rifles, so the inspiration comes from mess taverns where he and his regiment would eat, drink and socialise,” says Karam Sethi, who has created a menu that ranges from Indian BBQ and a full “nashta” to suckling lamb/pig “beast feasts”.

Lumsden’s latest creation, the Glenmorangie Allta (Gaelic for “wild”), puts the focus on a neglected ingredient in single malt: yeast

Bar Graph It is not just whisky that is sloshing in posh London. At Devonshire Club, I settle for a delicious beverage that mimics the botanicals of a gin in its complexity. Low- or noalcohol complex drinks, amaros and vermouths are being touted as the biggest emerging category in London's bar circles. Then, there is the rise and rise of mescal. Tequila's lesser known cousin is featured in many a gourmet cocktail.

However, the most dramatic hangouts are the immersive bars, a distinct and growing category. Mr Fogg's is one of the most popular. The fictional Mayfair home of Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne's character who traversed the world in 80 days, is filled with maps, charts and stuffed crocodiles. The cocktails are concocted from old recipe books and ingredients come from different corners of the world - guava jam, rooibos tea, date reduction and tamarind syrup.

Another immersive bar is Looking Glass, inspired by Lewis Carrol. The cocktails are theatrical and detailed: Turtle Soup is a flaming punch which is set fire to at your table. It's sipper theatre at its best.

(The writer looks at restaurants, food trends and culinary concepts)

World Whisky Day: Give An Interesting Twist To Your Favourite Drink With These Recipes

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19 May, 2018
Whether you like your poison on the rocks or adulterated, you don't really need to wait for World Whisky Day to celebrate the smoothness and refinement of a good malt. But it's good reason to do so, nonetheless. So this Whisky Day, we got the experts to share their favourite cocktail recipes. From the cinnamon spice and caramel flavour of a whisky tiramisu to the sweet nuttiness of orgeat syrup and bitters in a new twist on a whisky sour, there's something for everyone.

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