Timothy Barnes: Startending at The Taj Palace’s Blue Bar
Time for another report from the land of India, and to say that there has been a lot going on is quite the understatement.
And it’s here, in Delhi where we will wrap up the initial foundation part of our training. Then we move into preparations for this year’s Diageo World Class Competition.
This will be my first involvement of any kind with the internationally renowned contest and I’m bloody, bloody (more emphasis on the second) excited, let me tell you!!
Writing this from weeks after my time spent there, I can honestly say that Bangalore is seriously missed. It was there we were able to stretch our legs for a couple weeks and I was given time to explore this wonderful country and all she had to offer, for the first time.
It was Rohan Carvalho, India’s most charismatic export and I, who were stationed in Bangalore to deliver 2 weeks of Diageo Bar Academy training. There, we were given a great welcome and the satisfaction of full classrooms for all of the 8 sessions we delivered. Rohan assured me that the reason for the excellent turn-outs was simple.
Word must have spread around Bangalore, that it was he, the famed Mr. Carvalho delivering the education. I’d have to agree though, there were a few doe-eyed female students fumbling about during that 2 weeks. It’s easy to see why too, Rohan has a unique sense of humour, which suits me, as mine has been described as unique also. Although, more “unique” words have been used in the description.
Rohan and I also found we both have similarly wide tastes in music and in exploring each others tastes, we were able to uncover a few guilty musical pleasures to further our friendship. I will bravely say this though; it’s a special moment in a friendship when two grown men can admit to each other that Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, is one of the greatest albums ever produced.
During our time in Bangalore, Rohan and I had the privilege of visiting Amrut Distilleries, producers of many fine Whiskies and other spirituous liquors. Amrut Fusion is such a product and has been voted 3rd in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible of 2010.
Fusion is a single malt whisky comprising of two types of barley, one Indian and the other, a peated Scottish barley. The two malted barleys are distilled and aged individually, later blended and given a final lay down in American oak casks.
The whisky is aged only 4-6 years in the Indian heat. A good job too, as they loose on average 12% of the barrels contents every 12 months to the ‘Angels Share’. The two of us were given a very full and privileged tour of the operation, which boasts it’s own bottling plant, cooperage, distilling plant and, of course, monkeys in their dozens.
Those cheeky little b*st*rds, stroll through the place without a single care. In and out of the distilling rooms and whisky stores, as if they were part of the Amrut work force. After watching the “monkey business” I began to question the angels share calculation.
Only moments later, as if to affirm my queries, I saw a couple of monkeys making hand gestures at passing delivery trucks and whistling at the female workers returning from their lunch break. Those b*st*rds.
Seeing this unique distillery in action was certainly a wonderful experience and I want to say a massive thank you to Tim Etherington-Judge for orchestrating the day, Vikas Arora for his warm hospitality and mellow presence throughout the entire day.
And lastly, but not leastly, to Amrut’s VP of production Surrinder Kumar, who gave one of the most passionate and fevered speeches about Whisky, in particular Amrut Whisky, I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
A few days after visiting Amrut, Vikas gave us further display of Indian hospitality by hand delivering two bottles of Fusion juice to one of the Diageo Academy Classes.
I’m sure most from the industry have managed to sample one, hopefully two of the Amrut products, but please, please (more emphasis on the second) do yourself a favour and get your hands, large or small on a bottle. It’s delicious from start to finish and so truly unique. I can honestly say that the bottle is full of research, daring, passion and good old-fashioned balls. Not in the literal sense, of course.
Bangalore, as I said, is a place that I will truly miss, 2 brief weeks there wasn’t nearly enough. The Indian Premier League was in full swing with Bangalore seeing their way into the final, just weeks after I saw Tendulkar LBW for a duck. Who else saw this? My accommodation was smack bang in the middle of the most interesting suburb I’ve ever spent time in. The good people there loved seeing me on my evening runs, cheering at my passing.
Me in my bright canary yellow asics trainers flashing past, weaving around 6 foot deep holes in the ground and dodging cows, it was some exhilarating exercise. Made more interesting when the sun had completely set. Also, somewhere in the middle of those couple weeks, I had a chance meeting with a fellow Manchester resident who worked in a bright and spanky little bar around the corner from the infamous Socio Rehab where I spent many lucid evenings. Eva* had been living in Bangalore for 10 months previous and was able to give me an experienced tour of the city over my last 7 days.
It was wonderful being around a familiar face and having a graceful hand guiding me through the haphazard surrounds of Bangalore. While my review of Bangalore will always be gleaming, Eva and Rohan really made it for me. I thank you both, along with the Amrut chaps and all the Academy graduates.
It…is…so…f*cking hot here!!
Throughout our time here training here in India, we’ve also been assigned the task of promoting the World Class through leading bars in the cities we’ve visited. This has been an interesting venture, which has enabled me to get behind the mahogany at some of the most beautiful bars that India has to offer.
Furthermore we are shown the kind of hospitality we are here to dispel though the Academy. We’ve been working with previously devised World Class Menus, featuring creations for Reserve Ambassador Tim E-Judge as well as the 2011 Indian representative for Diageo World Class, Hemant Pathak.
This kid will be one to watch come finals time as he has a very forward thinking method when it comes to drink creation and working next to him, I can say he’s as fast as lightning, but unfortunately his smile is too damn to make him frightening.
The first major “startending” shift was at The Taj Palace’s Blue Bar with last year’s Australian World Class rep, Adam Brewer, Tim E-J and myself. I was anticipating the evening for a good few days previous, and it didn’t fail to deliver.
The first drink ordered was a Negroni, which set me thinking. The 3 of us all got on well in the bar environment, just like the 3 ingredients of a Negroni. You had Adam, the Vermouth, sweet, gaining complexity every time you cared to explore. Tim was the Campari, a different experience every time, converted vegetarian and most definitely bitter. And me…I was the Gin, fresh and aromatic with pronounced notes of citrus zest.
Just for the record Tom “The Doctor” Sneesby, the fasian ratings at these venues have generally been 5 out of 5 stars.
World Class lead-up
So now, we see ourselves within 2 weeks of the famed Diageo World Class finals here in Delhi. Adam, Tim and myself have been producing bespoke ingredients as substitutes for hard to find liquors here in India. And we’ve created a few worthy of bottling….sorry. The majority, have been the brainchild of Tim with some fine tuning done on the spot by all three of us.
During these few sessions Adam Brewer who, I will say, is below the legal drinking age here in Delhi, has blown me away with the maturity of his palate. He can give a full-blown appraisal of what is experienced and what is needed to help our bespoke products shine before setting down for this years competitors. A master of taste and aroma, and has only had his nose broken 3 times.
I aim to be giving a mostly detailed wrap up of the World Class Competition for the next blog from my cabana in Sri Lanka between surfing sessions. For now, though the countdown continues. Who will take the crown from last years Erik Lorincz and be heralded as the Best Bartender… in the Galaxy?!?!?!
*some names in the above article have been changed to protect the identity of the actual people. But mostly because Gemma asked me to.