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Freeze the bird

The Snow Grouse takes the trend of frozen whisky to another level. Now if only it would launch this summer…

Sanjiv Bhattacharya | Print Edition: May 31, 2009

It ought to be catching on like wildfire, this frozen whisky thing. Here we are, a nation of whiskyholics in the midst of another sweltering summer and still I’m yet to find a bar that’ll serve me a frozen one. What’s going on here? Didn’t they get the memo? Frozen whisky the new thing.

It started when Johnnie Walker brought out Gold Label and suggested that we keep the bottle in the freezer. It’s fun, we were told, it’s a novel way of imbibing, and anyway, out in Scandinavia, they’ve been at it for years. Then last year, another whisky titan tossed its hat into the ice rink. The Famous Grouse people introduced The Snow Grouse, a grain blend matured in oak casks that was specifically created to be kept in the freezer. In other words, if you serve Snow Grouse at room temperature, you’re getting it wrong. So serious is the house of Grouse that it has even devised special Frozen Serve machines to be installed in bars which serve the blend at the requisite Antartican temperature—minus 18 degrees.

Now I haven’t seen one of these Frozen Serve machines in India yet (though they’re expected in Delhi and Mumbai before the yearend), but I’ve heard from friends abroad. They tell me that the whisky changes at that temperature. It goes all gloopy and pale, akin to a jello shot for those of you who’ve spent time (getting hammered) in the US. Naturally, there’s less of a nose—it’s too cold to evaporate— and the taste is somewhat sweeter. But the Snow Grouse isn’t meant to be savoured as you would a 30-year-old Glenkinchie. According to the Grouse’s literature, it’s meant to be served as a shot. Boom! Straight down the hatch!

All of this reminds me of whiter spirits and younger days. I’ve put bottles of 40 per cent in my freezer before, but they were full of vodka. And this notion of ordering shots at a bar reminds me of tequila, of youth and late night bars, pumping music and a gagging feeling in the back of the throat. Not terribly whisky” in other words.

But far be it from me to start coughing loudly about what’s “whisky” and what isn’t. The experts have spoken. There are few shrewder observers of the drinking public than the Edrington Group, who produce The Famous Grouse. Since its founding by Matthew Gloag in Perth, Australia, 200 years ago, it has grown into a titan producing 30 million bottles a year, and for the last 30 years, it has been the #1 Scotch in Scotland, which is about as ringing an endorsement as a whisky maker could hope for.

No doubt The Snow Grouse is a bid at a younger market—a hipper, urban crowd who may associate whisky with an older and stuffier sensibility. Spirits have always tussled over each other’s demographics—rum challenging vodka as a party drink, vodka entering whisky’s turf by pitching itself as a connoisseur’s drink. And the tide may be turning in frozen whisky’s favour—there’s no reason a younger generation of boozers shouldn’t enjoy the water of life. And for us older whisky hands, we’re in for a long hot summer, too—make mine a frozen.

The Snow Grouse will be coming soon to India at Rs 1,700-1,950 per bottle. In the meantime, there’s The Famous Grouse and The Black Grouse, available from all respectable spirits suppliers.

Sanjiv Bhattacharya

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