Donald Colville is quite unlike any other whisky ambassador I’ve ever met. He has a disarmingly casual vibe about him and his personality is such that light conversation flows casually, with no effort. Most interestingly, he is also extremely social media savvy, posting regularly across social media platforms. I broke the ice and within a few seconds he was already sharing his story with me. And most importantly his passion for malts, which comes out so effortlessly.
Here I am at the St. Regis Mumbai, spending an afternoon with Donald, during his fleeting visit to Mumbai, to understand scotch whisky in the current context. My interaction with him was absolutely amazing. Here are a few snippets from our chat.
He began by taking us through a bit of a guided tasting session of single malts, from five different regions of the Scottish Highlands. Interestingly enough, he had paired them with condiments to complement the flavours. Here’s what we tasted.
Lagavulin 16 YO – This single malt is aged in oak casks for at least sixteen years. It is much sought-after and has massive peat-smoke that’s typical of southern Islay, but also posseses a beautiful complexity that offers hints of sweet and malty notes.
Oban 14 YO – This malt has a combination of rich sweet orange notes with a gentle smoky dryness and appetising spice.
Caol Ila Malt 12 YO – A smoky, sea-fresh malt with beautiful notes of citrus and malt from the Island of Islay
Talisker 10 YO – This malt is made by the sea in the Skye region, the classic stalwart of the Talisker family. It has a rich dried-fruit sweetness, clouds of smoke, strong barley-malt flavours.
Singleton of Glen Ord 12 YO – A fruity single malt, well-composed liquid that manages to be both light and smooth without compromising any depth of flavour or fullness of palate.
That brought us to my next question. Is whisky to be enjoyed neat or is it okay to pair it with food and drink it in cocktails? Here’s what Donald had to say, ”If people go for a nice meal, and they have a lovely bit of fresh lobster, do they simply just eat that or do they actually enjoy a whole array of things on that plate that complement it, enhance it and enjoy with it. So our single malts are made so perfect that they should and could be drunk neat, but it doesn’t mean that they always have to be drunk in the same way. They are full of flavous that compliment each other.”
When we asked Donald how he would say people should drink their scotch, he had an answer that surprised us all.
He said, “The first thing I would ask is people is how they enjoy their coffee. I cant tell them to drink it as a cappuccino with 3 sugars, so I’m not going to tell them how to drink the single malts. What I will say is, go out, find really good bars, places with great collections, with great knowledgeable staff, go and attend tastings. Speak to them. They can share the opportunity to try new things, ask questions, tell them the flavours available. Find bartenders who will have a good, informative chat with you. These are the stepping stones I encourage people to take.”
What are the two biggest trends among whisky consumers these days?
“For me, the biggest trends is driven by the cocktail culture and on top of that also the newer, younger demographic of drinker coming in.”
Is the perception of scotch changing, then? “Scotch is the world’s favourite whisky and the reason for that is, the absolute incredible diversity of flavour that we have on offer. Why that is relevant is because from a trend perspective, it gives people the ability to enjoy it in so many different ways. We need to change the stereotype of scotch that it is simply an old man’s drink, it’s a drink that can only be drunk neat like this. All these stereotypes need to really break down and move the industry forward.”
After these insights, Donald finally talks about the Diageo Reserve World Class finals, the primary reason of his visit to Mumbai. He is here to judge the competition which sees over 300 bartenders showcasing their skills and knowledge to create wonderful drinks. From 300, 12 finalists are shortlisted and the winner is whisked off to Mexico to represent India in the international competition. (Back to my chat with him, highlighting the increasing importance of whisky cocktails).
“For me, a competition like this is about raising the standards of bar tendering around the world. That doesn’t just mean mixing great drinks. Its being able to support the industry, grow and develop, help, support, education of new bartenders coming into the scene, showcase and help them find new trends and new ways of working, and build relationships. So for me what world class stands for is an incredible thing. And hopefully, these guys and girls will do as much as possible to do India proud.”
By Kristianne Mascarenhas