The art of gifting, and serving whisky this festive season
Dewar’s brand ambassadors - Ernest Reid and Emily Thompson - share tips to picking the perfect bottle, and stirring-up some low-calorie cocktails.
Ernest Reid, mixologist and brand ambassador for Dewar’s whisky, has mixed drinks for celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Simon Le Bon, Kelsey Grammer, and Rhod Gilbert among others, while his colleague at the spirits brand, Emily Thompson has had her own share of celebrity-moments stirring-up cocktails for IFL stars.
While Reid has over 20 years of experience across England, Thompson began her journey in Brisbane over 9 years ago at the age of 18, before they moved to India. They’ve been here a few months, and are already getting accustomed to the Delhi traffic, they say as we settle down for a chat on an autumn afternoon.
It’s been a long and interesting journey here, they chorus, as we get down to deconstructing the misconceptions around ‘Mad Men’ Don Draper’s favourite spirit.
“A lot of people live under the impression that whisky is always smoky,” says Reid.
“In reality, while some areas produce smoky whisky, others are more experiential. In the highlands, they do add peat to it, but that is just one area, depending on the liquid’s origin and composition which can alter it from sweet to floral to balanced,” he explains.
While Thompson agrees with him, she debunks the popular misconception that it’s an old person’s drink.
“And they couldn’t be more wrong,” the self-proclaimed whisky fan says, referring to the
brand’s LiveTrue philosophy that is working on the ‘Dewar’s Club’ experiential campaign to make it a fun drink, keeping the millennial lot and Gen-z in focus.
“It’s the cool, go-to millennial scotch, very different from Chivas and Johnnie Walker,” they add.
Thompson credits part of this change to shows like ‘Mad Men’, in addition to the fact that the new well-travelled younger generation has an increased spending capacity, and better accessibility to scotch.
Which brings us to India as a growing market for whisky. And pat comes the reply. “If you see the year-on-year growth, Dewar’s is the fastest growing scotch brand in India at 54% in the last year.” he says.
Their biggest markets include Haryana, Maharashtra and Telangana - and the brand is all for tapping into tier-2 cities, which they say have a ‘lot of opportunity’.
This growth rate, as a trend, rises during the festive season.
“After all, you always share a bottle of whisky (not drink it on your own),” Reid says, with a laugh, on what makes Diwali a great time for some scotch on the rocks – or as a cocktail.
“Whisky cocktails have been around for a really, really long time. The old-fashioned originated in the 1880s,” says Reid, who himself prefers his scotch (a balance of savoury and sweet with raisin notes) neat, or as a Manhattan.
While Thompson, who likes her whisky ‘’very peaty, almost medicinal”, has Penicillin as her favourite - ginger ale, honey, lemon juice and smoky whisky - to sip on.
And Penicillin, she says also makes for a great low-calorie option for a Diwali party. Old-fashioned, if you use less sugar, and Highball are other great recommendations too.
“Sugar is the salt or pepper of making drinks,” Reid explains as I ask them for ways to cut down on calories in cocktails.
“You can get around that by using honey. Simply take a recipe and replace the sugar with a natural sweetener like honey.”
His personal favourite when he’s behind the bar, is the Brown Derby. “It gives me a chance to show-off my arms,” he quips about the 3-part shaken cocktail that includes honey and juice.
Thompson, on her part, has the whisky sour close to her heart.
Another fun tip that Reid says to remember as a host serving whisky is to get something you like. “After all, if it’s left-over, at least you can drink it,” he jokes.
But gifting a bottle is a completely different story. Rule number one, says Reid is never to go for single malt, unless you personally know the person, and that too, well.
“It’s like gifting music, if I don’t know you well I won’t get you a particular band, rather a compilation,” he explains.
“Similarly it’s always safer to gift a blended whisky. The magic of a blend is that it has a balance.”
“So if it’s your boss, always pick up a blend,” Reid suggests.
“And a nice glass to go with it,” Thompson adds for that perfect Diwali gift.