Between sips by Magandeep Singh: The elusive dram – Lifestyle News

Between sips by Magandeep Singh: The elusive dram – Lifestyle News

Recently, I was in Singapore to witness the launch of a very special whisky. In fact, it is one of the most lauded and revered of blended Scotch whiskies, so much so that many will choose it over some very heavyweight single malts without the slightest hesitation. If you haven’t already guessed, I am talking about Blue Label.

As whiskies go, everyone seems to think of single malts as the final stepping stone of sophistication. But a single malt, by nature, is never silky smooth. Single malts show character and robustness, they exhibit resolute grit and resolve, they are all about having a distinct personality and maybe even some attitude. You don’t just like any single malt, you find one you can associate with, or one that calls to you, and then you make it your staple.

A blend, on the other hand, is all about versatility. A good master blender will comb their way through hundreds (or thousands) of spirits that are ageing away in their cellars, tasting them time and again to see how they are maturing. They take detailed notes on each and their respective evolution so that when they sit down to make a final blend, they know exactly what each element will bring to the mix. In such a manner, all these exclusive eaux-de-vie coming together can be controlled and guided to create harmony that is truly unparalleled. Only one in every 10,000 casks is what is considered to go into Blue Label, making it truly a labour of love of patience and experience.

So how does one improve on perfection? What is there left to accomplish when one has already claimed the apogee and undisputedly so? Not one to rest on their laurels, the Blue Label team recently launched the Elusive Umami edition. Just for sake of scale (and not comparison), only one in 25,000 casks made it for this final blend so that should give you an idea of just how stringent the requirements must have been.

And what exactly were Emma Walker (master blender) and chef Kei Kobayashi, collaborator on this project (and the famed owner-chef at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Kei in Paris), looking for? Umami, that subtle-yet-distinct sense of taste which heightens or amplifies other tastes (sour, savoury, sweet and bitter). It is also often equated to a certain meatiness of taste—the reason why a vegetable broth just doesn’t pack the same richness as a bone broth—but it’s not limited to non-vegetarians for umami can also be found in tomatoes and mushrooms.

But how do we find umami in a whisky? In other words, what would umami in a whisky even taste like? I don’t think even the blending team had the answers when they set out on this journey and it would certainly haven’t been an easy hunt. Nevertheless, many meetings and tasting sessions later, here we were, seated at a roundtable in a room, all in hues of blue (of course), waiting to try the final spirit.

Finally, we had it. First the bottle, it’s recognisably Blue Label but in a darker hue, with some Japanese Kanji in gold, almost alluding to Kintsukuroi technique where gold filling is used to fill the cracks and repair broken earthenware such that the cracks now become the shining design pattern.

Next, the nose, it’s definitely Blue Label, but then, it’s more than just that. Smokey at first, then fruit, lightly candied, then some savoury notes, and then follow dried flowers, spices and toasted nuts. Mind you, it isn’t as sequential as it reads here, it’s more like an orchestra, starting with a gentle movement before the symphony picks up pace and all the instruments are playing in synchronised harmony. The palate is where the umami is more detected; it was like a Blue Label with a heightened sense of its innate flavours. I did the sneaky thing of trying both side by side, the standard Blue Label and the Elusive Umami edition and, even though one could detect the commonality of their DNA, the taste difference was still quite marked. And, for me, as much as I love the Blue Label, the rare occasions when one gets to savour it, this, here, the Elusive Umami edition, was making me trade up my loyalties quite easily. Rather than lose the pleasure of the moment in this sense of guilt, I instead let myself go and dived deeper into my glass in search for that fifth (taste) element.

The Blue Label Elusive Umami is slated to launch in India sometime soon. It might boast a bigger price tag but the limited quantities that may become available should still make them scarce on shelves rather quickly. Elusive, in every sense, one may say.

The writer is a sommelier

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