Tag Archives: India

Eat Stay Love | A Brave New World by Nikhil Agarwal

This is a fascinating time for whisky enthusiasts. Gone are the days when the entire world of whisky would be broken up into what the folks in Scotland made or what the Americans drank. In fact, even in Scotland and America, people are choosing rebellious artisanal brands over well-known commercial labels. Malt lovers are wandering off the beaten path to explore the more exotic and the unknown. And they haven’t been disappointed. Stellar quality whisky is currently being produced across the world from Japanese brands that have taken the world by storm ever since the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 won the title of ‘World’s Best Whisky 2015’, granting it a cult status; to its neighbour, Taiwan, who has introduced Kavalan, an instant favourite amongst collectors since its launch in 2008. India too has had its own tryst with whisky. Some distilleries have gone and done what would have been considered impossible—making single malts that are truly world-class using local ingredients. And then there is Australia’s island state of Tasmania where several distilleries have started creating magic, taking advantage of the gifts given to them by nature. A word of advice to venture capitalists looking to invest, put your money here. As for whisky lovers, they can now explore this sacred water of life from different parts of the world just like wine connoisseurs have been doing for decades. I, for one, am eager to see what we discover on this journey. Here are some labels that have caught my attention in the last year or so from my travels around the world.

The Quiet Man 8 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Ireland Recently launched in India, this coveted bottle is for the collection. It offers sweet and crisp floral fragrances with notes of vanilla and oak. On the palate, it leaves a hint of honey, warm vanilla and spicy oak, and ends with a smooth finish.

Woodford Reserve, USA Woodford Reserve is a Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey crafted from 51 percent malt. It is aged in charred oak barrels, which lends it a rich flavour and amplifies its nutty characteristics found in the original Woodford Reserve.

Amrut Rye Single Malt, India
Amrut Rye Single Malt is the first Indian whisky to be elaborated exclusively with European rye. With this, Amrut has become one of the few distilleries to be producing with rye. Aged for five years in American oak casks, this is a fruity and delicate dram. On the nose, it is white peach, caramel, roses, bread dough and cassia buds, while on the palate, it leaves notes of cherry, papaya, sauerbraten, cocoa, lemon and caramel bite candies. The finish is refreshing with subtle flavours of lemon, melon, dry sand, quince, honey, wood shavings and lime.

Kavalan Soloist, Taiwan
Owned by King Car Group and named after the indigenous group that inhabited the region, Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength is a delightfully complex, multidimensional single malt whisky with vanilla, fruit and coconut highlights. Matured in hand-selected fresh American ex-Bourbon casks, the whisky is available at cask strength. Unlike some distillers, Kavalan does not control the climate during maturation and adds no colouring for consistency, which leads to greater evaporation, giving a lower yield and making the final product even more valuable.

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old – Scotland
A personal favourite, this 14-year-old single malt is matured in traditional oak casks for 14 years, and then ‘finished’ in barrels that previously held Caribbean rum. Rich, sweet and creamy toffee on the nose combines with fresh fruit notes. On the palate, the malt is rounded with vanilla and sweet oak essence with a fruity character that develops with time.

Yamazaki 18 Years Old, Japan
The award-winning Japanese single malt features a rich flavour of mature autumn fruit. The nose has raisin, apricot, café au lait, Mizunara (Japanese oak) with blackberry, strawberry jam and dark chocolate. The finish is long, spicy and smooth. We suggest you savour this exquisite elixir by itself, either neat, or with a splash of water or ice.

Lark Single Malt Whisky Classic Cask, Australia
Celebrating the distillery’s use of quarter sized casks, this complex tipple is distilled with Tasmanian (Franklin) barley and malted at the Cascade Brewery. The lightly-peated brew resembles a Scottish Speyside or Highland whisky in flavour. It is double distilled in locally-crafted copper-pot stills and aged in small, 100-litre oak casks. The spirit is matured for five to eight years in these small barrels, which have a much larger surface area-to volume of liquid. This allows a faster rate of evaporative losses and a considerably shorter maturation period than that required by the larger barrels commonly used in Scotland.

Rampur Vintage Select Casks, India
Distilled in traditional copper pot stills, Rampur is a non-chill filtered single malt, refined and matured in the foothills of the Himalayas. It features rich fruity top notes, which are toffeeflavoured in the background with hints of honey, dried fruits and balanced spices. This handcrafted potion offers an all round balanced taste with malty and creamy vanilla. Shining in all its glory in beautiful golden amber, Rampur will leave your taste buds with a rich and long finish.

Longmorn 16 Year Old, Scotland
The master distillers have used the perfect balance of first, second and third fill ex American oak and ex-sherry casks aged 16 years or more to infuse this premium malt with natural ingredients, including local spring water, barley from Moray and peat from nearby sources. It is fresh and green on the nose with notes of ripe pears and sweet vanilla, as well as hints of creamy chocolate. On the palate, the whisky is rich and compact thanks to the high level of tannins that develop with a vinous character and spice.


Black Book - Sept 2016

The Business of Wine & Spirits in India

Authored by Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal for Black Book India

The Business of Wine and Spirits in India is like an intensedrama movie. There is little success for some and a lot of success for a few; lot of plot twists and equal amount of pain and suffering. Actually I think the business of wine and spirits in India is unlike the wine and spirits business anywhere else in the world.

I don’t think anyone getting into the alcohol business in India ever imagined that it would be so complicated. However, here lies the secret that all of us in the business know; because it is complicated and ruthless it will keep a lot of people out and if we hold on with all our might we will see fruition of our efforts.

Things have changed very dramatically in the last decade or so, more so than the decade before but then a lot of things haven’t changed at all.

The beverage trade in India faces every problem you can imagine. We have a hostile business environment, some states are dry while some have recently become dryandmany are threatening to do so..

In Gujarat for example, the old saying that more bottles of Johnnie are sold there than produced is probably true. In the legal sense,Gujarat has about 30 to 35 license holders. These license holders can purchase stock and sell to consumers who themselves have permits. The permits to consumers are given to those who need alcohol for maintaining their health. Maintaining their health….just genius.

The Courtyard Marriott in Ahmedabad holds such a license for example. They can sell to these health minded locals or international tourist, business travellers and of course the celebrated NRI’s because they have an international passport and are notgoverned by the same laws as we are. Dry states actually make for very good alcohol trade but not for the likes of us.

Besides custom duties on a central level for the imports and each individual state has its on own take on excise duties, VAT, octroi and other taxes.

Each state with a different tax regime means multiple cost cards, multiple prices for the same product, different strategies on schemes and marketing, different marketing budgets and in some cases like in the state of Karnataka convoluted methods to get the right discounts to our trade partners.

Also, just to make things more fun, the rules are often changed and without too much warning either. There you go, younew craft beer producer you, we’re not going to let you live your dream of being the next beer baron come true so easy. You have got to suffer just like the rest of us crabs despite your hard work and once in a lifetime idea.

I mean, some states have 70% VAT.  That sort of VAT component has forced locals of that state to imagine that their glass of average red is Cru Classe Bordeaux.

What else can I share with you? Oh yes, imagine a world with all of the above,it’s not too hard. You’ve spent crores creating your product and countless hours fine tuning it to be right but you cannot let the world know you have a product to sell.

You can’t advertise wine and spirits brands in India. Sure, if you got the money you do mineral water with the same logo and brand name or even bettersell “cd’s and cassettes’ sort of surrogate branding but you cannot say hey, have you tried my wine on a mass scale. Honestly when truly was the last time you bought a cassette or a CD for that matter?

Then you have your route to market to contend with. The average wine shop might look like it’s a dead zone with a guy half asleep at the counter.  But I got to tell you; they are not easy. They will squeeze you to a point where in some cases you actually pay them to sell your product. And if your product is wine, you’vegot it even tougher. Some restaurants and hotels will make your mind numb with their requests for listing fees and discounts.

Another case in point that recently created some havoc (there’s always something going on here) is that sales of wine were stopped in a particular state for about a month. Yes a month because they were debating changing some tax component that wouldchange the price of a bottle to the effect of Rs 1 per bottle. Can you imagine what the loss on sale is for a month for a brand?

State excise authorities will ask us to do label registration for wine and spirit brands once a year, this process takes some time. Some states are faster than the others and some take what feels like eons. Effectively you are not allowed to sell anything that is not already in the market till the process is complete. This could take more than a month sometimes. A month is 8.3% percent of our business year but no worries; our businesses only just support our lives.

The biggest challenge however, more than anything else is awareness. We just don’t know enough or anything on the larger scale. I have always believed that we in the trade have to look beyond supplying to an existing market but in fact we have to create a market. Like someone told me many moons ago, you cannot always preach to the converted. Therefore in the absence of advertising opportunities we rely heavily on experiential marketing and concepts that allow people to taste and experience. If they like it they will buy. At All Things Nice we pioneered the Indian Wine Consumer’s Choice Awards, Wine Week and Celebrating India’s Finest. We do whisky tastings and cognac evenings with ferocious intensity in numbers. We show people through experience the joys of pairing wine or even spirit with food. Conduct master classes on beer and in general constantly push the envelope on getting you to try different beverages.

I want to go on but I got to switch sides now and talk about the good stuff. There is a lot of it and a lot more of it to come. So much so that a lot of the troubles mentioned above are even accepted.

India’s 1.2 billion is thirsty for the most part. At every level of society you’ve got some serious thirst going on and it’s the beverage the industry’s job to quench it. Well someone’s got to do it, and that Ferrari is not going to paying for itself right?

More money in our pockets, many more people having travelled, people willing to try new cuisines and beverages and the Gods at Masterchef Australia have turned India’s upwardly mobile middle class into bastions of consumption.  Single malt sales have gone through the roof,luxury vodka brands are increasing in numbers. Whisky and brandy sales will make your mouth water. Locally brewed craft beer sales have outfoxed any sort of projections and have attracted serious funding. Indian wine producers are seeing a steady increase in sales and so is wine tourism. With the quality levels of Indian wine at an all time high, I predict millions of people will get onto the Indian bandwagon very soon.

India will have another 100 million legal drinkers (age limit wise) in the next 5 years. 100 million is roughly 3 Australia’s my fellowpeople so the market potential is ridiculous. True a tiny percent of the current and the new 100 million people will be drinking the good stuff but that doesn’t mean that eventually they won’t.

It isn’t only about Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore anymore. Kolkatta has a fascinating wine scene that’s developing (all that maroo money), Hyderabad is taking to single malts and Gurgaon with its low taxes and duties is seeing incredible growth figures. Even sleepy Pune is throwing in some descent numbers.

Despite all the troubles, the wine and spirits industry in India is booming and once you know the rules and understand that they will be changed frequently and that you will have to adapt and you are able to see through all the complicated taxation policies you will find that there is a huge pot of gold at the end of the booze rainbow.

So go on take that sip, we really want you to. And now that you have heard a little about just how much trouble we go through to get it to you perhaps you will appreciate it just a tiny bit more

Outlook Business Gourmet

Article by Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal of All Things Nice features in Outlook Business Gourmet.

For the longest time our options in terms of cuisines and gourmet foods available in India were limited. We had restaurants serving Indian cuisine and Indianised versions of Chinese and Italian cuisine and that was it. The hotels had the nicer restaurants and the stand-alone restaurant in India was pretty average.A trip to the local grocery store to buy cheese was limited to processed cheese and cheddar with a few other very basic ingredients.Sometimes to understand just how far we’ve come its good to look back and see what the gourmet reality was even just some fifteen years ago.

To understand the gourmet food sector in India it’s important to begin with talking about the Indian consumer and understand him better. The average Indian consumer has more money to spend than ever before. He is a lot better travelled and is becoming more aware about different food cultures from around the world. He is better informed on food trends and even if he doesn’t move out of his room all he would have to do is skip through all the hundreds of channels available to him and he would have an opportunity to watch at least seven to ten different shows on food and food culture.

The Internet in terms of general content online and especially posts on social media like facebook, twitter and instagram would make it impossible for him to not be exposed to gourmet food. It’s not surprising therefore that food and restaurants have taken on such importance in the last few years. The Masterchef phenomenon is unbelievable, how many people are hooked, watching the show almost every night, watching contestants whip up gourmet dishes. It’s impossible to eat everyday food after watching these shows.

The buzz is everywhere, people are discussing their favourite restaurants and dishes and vacations are being planned around gastronomy and wine. Think back ten years ago and you wouldn’t notice this serious interest. This is all relatively new. This consumer is becoming more evolved and demanding which in turn is forcing food businesses to up their game.What’s really interesting here also is that this consumer is willing to pay more to get a better gourmet product or experience and that our palate is ready to try out various cuisines. A Chinese restaurant serving more authentic cuisine or a pizzeria serving a more traditional Italian style of pizza has far more takers than before. As any society becomes more sophisticated with basic and secondary needs being taken care off people often spend their disposable income on food, drink and other lifestyle products. In India to see this happening everyday and again we must remember that it has only just begun.

As India becomes a global business hub the number of people from all over the world that choose to make India their home will also increase. You can see it all around you, they bring with them their own food and drink cultures and create a demand that needs to be met. I find it very interesting to see expats shopping for vegetables at the local markets. The local markets have understood this new demand and are not only selling ingredients and gourmet products for this international customer but in a lot of cases have even learnt to communicate with them in their language. Don’t get me wrong I don’t peg India’s gourmet status with expats but I do certainly understand the value of what people with different cultures from around the world will bring to the gourmet world in India.

When I was twenty years old at the beginning of my career my food choices were limited. Can you imagine what the food world looks like to a twenty year old now? He can choose cuisines from all over the world; he can walk into a modern retail store and choose from a wide array of gourmet products and wine for that matter.It’s not new to him; he’s growing up exposed to it. The pace at which the culture for food and wine will change and evolve is unimaginable and every year the speed of change will increase.

One way to measure just how important gourmet food and wine has become in India is to realize that Chefs and Sommeliers are being given celebrity status and that corporates and banks are using food and drink as a medium to engage their clients or acquire new ones.

Modern retail stores like Godrej Natures Basket for example have changed the game. The number of options for every category of food available is staggering.  There are imported fruits, organic vegetables, a range of coffees and teas, truffle oils and even artisanal pastas. Not only do you have cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, Gouda available but you have aged options of the same cheeses available as well. Charcuterie is not limited to ham and bacon but people are buying Salami Milano, Iberico and Pata Negra.  Even the chocolate world has changed.People do not want the same quality and brands that were available earlier. Our market place is capable of absorbing even high priced and ultra superior quality chocolates like Royce from Japan for example.

The availability of these ingredients and gourmet products has also led to a lot of experimentation with food at home making gourmet food even more popular.Technology is such a big contributor; we have applications for our smart phones that allow us to order food, to give reviews and to read them. Everybody is suddenly a food critic.

Rahul Akerkar broke the mold by creating Indigo, a superstar of a stand-alone restaurant. This was not only a revolution in terms of food but for the first time a serious wine strategy was in place that most hotels themselves had not adopted.We got to have a fine dining experience for the first time outside of a hotel. Since then the stand alone restaurant space has exploded with new restaurants opening almost every week. Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore see most of the action but cities like Gurgaon, Chennai and Hyderabad are also coming along quick.Kolkatta is slow but also on its way. Even in Goa, which has always been, known for its great sea food is starting to see more options than the humble Goan curry.

Molecular gastronomy has also made an in road with restaurants like Masala Library becoming huge success putting a spin on Indian cuisine. On that note there are restaurants that are also transforming the way Indian food is presented. Take for example Bombay Canteen and Indian Accent. Restaurants serving regional cuisines are also becoming popular. Indian food is one of the greatest cuisines on the planet and it so interesting to see modern takes on this cuisine. Having said that the Indian restaurants at the ITC hotels and the like have been centers for world class gourmet indulgences for the longest time.

New big global hotel chains are also coming into the Indian market and existing hotel brands are increasing their footprint. Each hotel opened adds more dining options and competition being healthy the quality of food and beverage. The expat chef was once only at the top five star hotel restaurants in India but now stand-alone restaurants are also bringing Chefs from various parts of the world to create something new and exciting. Chef Alex at The Table, Chef Kelvin at Ellipsis haveadded so much to the gourmet scene in Mumbai for example. The Table also sources some of it’s ingredients from its own farm in Ali bagh.

There are so many events taking place around gourmet food all the time. Cooking demonstrations, wine and food dinners, pop up restaurants, special Chef’s menu’s, visiting international Chefs you name it. There is a sharp increase in activity revolving around food events that makes this a very exciting time in India. So much so that venture capitalist are funding F&B businesses aggressively.

Watering holes are also taking gastronomy very seriously. The gastro pub has finally arrived and microbreweries are serving top gourmet food along with their stellar beers. Woodside Inn has spent a lot of energy and time in creating delicious dishes that go beyond the usual eats that you would find at a bar. I particularly like what Chef Manu Chandra has done with Monkey Bar. It’s varied and so different from anything else. Infact don’t be surprised if you find yourself going more often for the food rather than the drink.

Restaurant brands from London and elsewhere are opening all over India. Hakkasan, Maritime by San Lorenzo, Le Cirque, Wasabi and Arola by Chef SergiArola to name a few. Jamie Oliver is slated to open up his restaurant in Delhi in the very near future. However this is just the beginning, we haven’t even really scratched the surface yet. Mumbai and Delhi have only just started their journeys to become global destinations for food and as we get richer the quality of what’s on offer will also change dramatically. One key element that we must note here is that we do have one of the finest cuisines on the planet and in a sense we have always had a great food culture the only thing that was lacking was options and innovation.

Private party caterers no longer offer the traditional basic fair. They offer a fusion of food from all over the world, presented and plated to perfection. Gourmet food at weddings has been taking to another level where even international Michelin star Chefs are being flow down to cater to their guests. The concept of sit down wine dinners at home where top end wines and food is sharply on the rise for those food and rink enthusiasts who are looking to experience the next gourmet experience.

Wine becomes extremely important when it comes to any gourmet experience and I do think that wine as a category is currently piggy backing on food but in the future interest in wine will generate interest in gourmet food as well. The trend of consuming food and drink together is also on the rise. Our culture has always been one of many drinks followed by dinner and that would be the end of the night. I think the younger generations are beginning to do it differently and more importance is being given to eating and drinking at the same time like the western world. I see this at All Things Nice quite a bit as our wine dinners and dinners paired with single malt have become increasingly popular. There is no better pairing for food than wine and you do see a number of restaurants improve the gourmet experience by having in house sommeliers who are able to guide guests on which wine to have with their food.

Last as I begin to sign off there are gourmet food trucks that are about to unleash themselves on Indian roads adding to the plethora of options in the gourmet world. Perhaps one easy way for me to drive home my point on gourmet food in India is to ask a very simple question. Practically everyone you know wants to start a restaurant or a bar right?


I along with thousands of others seem to be immediately hooked. I’d probably go as far as saying we are addicted to Doolally. Who can blame u?  It’s located in a nice quite street in Bandra, it’s very casual, always has a buzz, the beer is truly unbelievable, the grub is good and the price offers incredible value for money. Rs 250 for 330ml glass of world class beer just feels so right.

Since it opened I find myself dreaming about their beers and land up visiting on average of at least thrice a week. Sometimes it’s just for 2 quick pints. Sometimes it’s just because I’ve got off the sea link on my way home in the evening . I’ve even got one of the member mugs with my name on it.

The beer is undoubtedly the star of the show, with a variety of offerings and each of them with their own unique flavors, they keep you coming back for more. My favourite would have to be the Stout, though their Hefeweizen, Belgium wit beer, Belgium Farmhouse ale and their Weizenbock are excellent. There are more and I like them all frankly. Haven’t tried their cider and don’t intend to but it does seem popular as well. To get the uninitiated up to speed they are happy to pour tasting portions so that people can sample and then place an order.

They and the other brewpubs like The White Owl along with Gateway Brewing have upped the quality levels of beer available in Mumbai so dramatically that I think Kingifsher and the like will have to change their game if they want to retain quality oriented consumers.

The food though not the centre of attraction is actually very good and also different which makes it interesting. Scotch eggs, Kerala prawns, ghee chicken roast, the batter fried bombay duck all really good and all perfect to go with their beers.

No one can deny that there is a drink revolution going on in India, Doolally gives us an opportunity to drink world class delicious beer and not the crap that we’ve been subjected to all this while at prices that are affordable. Well at least since before Gateway came along.

At Doolally suddenly conversations about different kinds of beer and understanding their origins can be heard from every table and that’s something right ? Even though we’ve been drinking beer all this while we never really bothered to know the differences until now.

But Doolally has created another revolution, one that I have been watching closely. The revolution I’m talking about is the social revolution when it comes to drinking that Doolally seems to have set a tone for. I find that people are comfortable getting their kids ( very young kids as well) and even their pets to Doolally. Doolally has somehow created a vibe that is very welcoming, almost like a German beer garden. It’s this sort of vibe, openness to drinking a glass of beer that India needs. Going out for food and a couple of pints of beer if handled responsibly could also be a family affair.

Nowhere else do I see this phenomenon. It’s changing things, you see some people wondering ( My wife and I go with our twins every sunday) what we’re doing but then I also see them changing their stance when they see us having a good time. The kids freak out on the fries and we sip on a beer or two and spend our time together. Really nothing wrong with that.

Doolally 1

By Nikhil Agarwal, Sommelier and Director at All Things Nice