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Since 1st March, 1999
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Sampling the finest of Scotch flavours

The invitation read 'The Chieftain of the Kolkata Caledonian Club cordially invites you to a Scottish Whisky Tasting Evening at the Hyatt Regency on Friday, 24 March 2006'Dress: Highland Dress or Casual'.

This was an offer impossible to refuse. It was a hectic day and there was also a performance scheduled for later in the evening but wild horses were not going to drag me away from this destination. I arrived late and missed the Chieftain's speech (though I managed to get a copy of it) but more or less just in time for the actual tasting ceremony, which was a serious and focused affair, extremely enlightening and yet relaxed and humorous and enjoyable at the same time. With good Scotch the focal point, how could it be otherwise'

This was a delightful little excerpt from the Chieftain's address; in which he quotes the 'Whiskey Speech', made by a Mississippi State Senator in the legislature in 1958:

'If you mean whiskey, the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteousness and gracious living into the bottomless pits of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.

'However, if by whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale which is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life's great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm'then, my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favour of it.'

The tasting rituals were conducted by a representative of Seagram's. Each of us had four glasses lined up in front of us, pen and paper and a key card with words and pictures that were there to help us make associations when trying to describe the colour, smell or taste of the whiskies. Numbers one and four were told were single malts; two and three were blended whiskies.

Spicy, Apricot, Dried Fruit, Smoky, Salty, Toffee, Vanilla, Hazelnut, Almond, Honey, Apple and Oaky were the words on the key card to help us make associations. The master of ceremonies had a board set up behind him on which he noted various comments from us and first up he concentrated on the single malts.

Colour first. We raised our glasses and held them up against a white or neutral background and gave him our feedback. Light. Dark. Sunshine. Gold. Amber. Just to be wacky, someone said moonlight. Most of us were lay people reacting spontaneously.

Smell next. Before this ritual, we were asked to take a deep whiff from a bowl of coffee beans, to activate the olfactory nerve ends. Here again, people expressed their opinions and these were noted down. Before the tasting round, we were asked to 'cut' the whisky by putting about 50 percent by volume of water in. The key card suggestions worked for many of us here, as they had during the smell-descriptions earlier, and reactions like 'toffee', 'apricot' and 'honey' were evoked, as also were reactions not suggested by any guidelines but just gut-level responses such as 'phenolic', 'oxidised apple' and even 'boring'. The MC good humouredly took it all down.

The aftertaste left by each whisky was also a point of discussion. At one stage a map of Scotland came up on a screen and we were shown some of the important regions where the well known distilleries are located, such as Speyside in the north-east where there are many; the water used here is clear spring water, quite different from the island of Islay, off the south west coast, where naturally the water has characteristics of the sea, and where the peat they use to dry the malt gives the whisky here a distinctive flavour.

Fascinating and informative. Before the final denouement, when it was revealed to us what we had been tasting, we were asked if anyone of us could actually pinpoint the brand of each whisky. One young Scotsman hit the nail on the head with whisky number one, a single malt. 'La phroaig', he said, and La phroaig it was, distilled in Islay, assertive and smoky in character. Number four, the other single malt was Strathisla, a Speyside whisky. Numbers two and three, the blended whiskies; were Johnny Walker Black and Chivas Regal.

The pride the Scottish have in their national drink that keeps a substantial part of humanity happy, was evident.

It was a serious one hour of tasting; afterwards, there was enough time to socialise and get tipsy, but even the ritualised tasting never became too solemn.

The Caledonian Club has more events in store for us, including some traditional Scottish dancing.

If I remember the lessons I learnt at a Youth Club from a redoubtable Scottish lady named Edith Garnie, I might be able to join in the Eightsome Reel or the Highland Fling.

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