Mumbai: Dressed in their finest, a group of people is gathered around a table at a plush Mumbai bar. The table is decked up with glasses and small plates as light jazz plays in the background.
The glasses are filled with liquor. While it’s gin this night, there’s sparkling wine, cognac, bourbon, and champagne on others. These are offered alongside meals curated by a chef to go perfectly with each drink — even to enhance the taste.
The gins on offer include some of the country’s finest — Doja, Pumori, Tamaras, Terai, Stranger & Sons and Hapusa — and the chef talks about the food on your plate at length.
Then, Nikhil Agarwal, the architect of the evening, gets into the intricacies of the drink you’re holding, with an aim to make you appreciate its different elements — from the smell and look to texture and taste.
“Smell it, recognise its texture,” Agarwal says. “Feel it burn down your throat,” he adds, and tells guests to also be cognisant of how it feels once it’s in the stomach.
This is a typical cocktail tasting evening organised by All Things Nice, one of many clubs cropping up across India to cultivate a crop of liquor connoisseurs.
The idea is to not just down your alcohol but also appreciate it.
Dram Club, another such club, founded by Vinayak Singh and his business partner Swati Sharma in 2019, also seeks to break down the exclusivity of existing whisky-tasting clubs and “democratise the exercise”.
Founded in 2013, All Things Nice hosts weekly tasting events or dinners at fancy locations in different cities. It charges anywhere between Rs 3,000 and 7,000 for each event.
Those willing to join can register themselves through the website or social media pages of All Things Nice, founder and sommelier Agarwal told ThePrint.
Dram Club hosts whisky-tasting evenings at least once a month, and charges anywhere from Rs 2,000-Rs 6,000.
Both All Things Nice and Dram Club cater to customers across metropolitan cities from Mumbai to Bengaluru and Delhi.
The finer taste
The idea behind clubs like these, the founders say, was the realisation that whisky-obsessed India knows little about the spirit — or any other alcohol for that matter.
“It struck us — Indians talk about whisky all the time but haven’t been exposed to more than two good brands,” said Singh. “The Dram Club was founded for the love of whisky and to share knowledge about it, and to make people look beyond the label on the bottle.”
For whisky or any other liquor, Singh said, “we tend to not get into the details”.
“So, when we visited Scotland in October 2018 and visited distilleries there, the craft, the science and the heritage really fascinated us,” Singh of Dram Club told ThePrint.
Talking about All Things Nice evenings, Agarwal said they
organise whisky-tasting events once a month. “We pick a really nice venue. We want our guests to have the best experience, so we don’t compromise on anything — from the menu to music to the venue,” Agarwal added.
A typical evening with All Things Nice will take you to the top bars and hotels in town. Their usual venues include Taj Lands End, JW Marriott Hotels, and Perch in Mumbai, and the Ritz-Carlton, ITC Gardenia, and JW Marriott in Delhi.
“We plan a 7-course meal keeping in mind which liquor will go best with which food, what would really enhance your palate,” said Agarwal. “We did an evening, where ad guru Subhash Kamath played jazz music while we served whisky that would go well with a certain kind of music,” he added.
The Dram Club organises “masterclasses” where guests are taken through different kinds of whisky, glass by glass.
“A lot of times you hear people say they love scotch, or single-malt. But usually they throw these names without actual knowledge of what they mean,” Singh said.
“We help people understand their whisky language and gradually help them appreciate it. Tell them what kind of cocktails they can make with them. These are very interactive sessions, usually paired with a five-course dinner,” he added. “Each dish brings out the flavour of whisky that much emphatically.”
While the creation of world-class experiences is on top of the Dram Club’s to-do list, another aim is to end the exclusivity of high-profile whisky-tasting groups in Mumbai.
“In Scotland, people offer you good whisky like we offer chai in India. It’s not as hallowed there as it is here,” Singh said. “We realised there are whisky-tasting groups in the city, but they were all too exclusive. One needed referrals to even get to them. For us, we wanted to democratise the experience for people, and invite more and more to come taste finer whiskys of the world with Dram Club.”
The experience appears to be taking off with customers. A Mumbai-based film-maker who attended the aforementioned All Things Nice event said it was his first tasting event with the club and he was “impressed”.
“I enjoy my fine gins and whiskys, but, before this, I never got down to really appreciating them. You know what I mean?” the film-maker added. “This was a gin cocktail tasting event, and in the future I’d love to attend again.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)