Around the world in 40 sips

Around the world in 40 sips

The Kochi Muziris Biennale, now in its fourth edition, has made the southern city India’s go-to art destination. With the upcoming The Vault Bienn

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The Kochi Muziris Biennale, now in its fourth edition, has made the southern city India’s go-to art destination. With the upcoming The Vault Biennale, Keshav Prakash — founder of The Vault, a fine spirits importing firm — hopes to do the same for Mumbai, but for liquor.

He likens the event (on February 16 and 17, at Tote on the Turf) to a music festival — with a mix of artistes, some whose work you are familiar with and others you are not. Except here, spirits will take centrestage. “It is not just a festival, it’s about appreciation, connoisseurship and storytelling, with the theme being ‘Spirited Stories’,” says Prakash, a cinematographer by profession, whose love for fine spirits inspired him to create a business out of it five years ago.

Having spent much of his time visiting major global trade shows, including Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and Whisky Live, and observing the growing rise of a customer set in India who are drinking less, but better, he felt the time is ripe for such an experiment.

Around the world in 40 sips

Taste test

The festival is divided into four main parts: Taste, Discover, Listen and Indulge. Guests can buy tickets for either day, which will give them access to 40 spirits from around the world, and discover categories that they may not be familiar with, such as Calvados, the apple brandy from France; Armagnac, Cognac’s cousin, and Cachaca, the cane spirit from Brazil. Brand owners and creators like Anthony Wills of Kilchoman (a single malt from Islay) will also be present, to share their work and passion with visitors.

For those interested in a deeper dive, they can listen to a hand-picked group of speakers who will address a diverse set of topics, from the Curious World of Gins to Mezcal, the Smoky Whiskies of Islay, and many more. I’m particularly interested in hearing about categories that are under-represented in our country, like Vermouth, where we will have Grazia Di Franco, from Mancino Vermouth, in conversation with Mal Spence, a bar veteran from Glasgow. I’m also a big fan of Armagnac, a legendary brandy from the Gascony region of France. And Florence Castarede of Armagnac Castarede will be on hand, another conversation I’m excited about.

What Prakash hopes will be the highlight is the presence of three of the World’s Top 50 bars of 2018 at the Biennale — Bar Benfiddich from Tokyo, The Clumsies from Athens, and Licoreria Limontour from Mexico City — giving visitors a chance to indulge in exemplary cocktails. On both days of the festival, a small group of guests (20 only) will have access (via an extra fee of ₹1,000) to the founders of these bars, who will talk about their craft and invite them to sample their drinks.

Around the world in 40 sips

If you happen to miss this, don’t worry. On Saturday, the action will shift to Kamala Mills after 9 pm, for a bar take over. Three of Mumbai’s top bars, Xico, Koko and Bombay Canteen, will host the foreign visitors and give patrons a bar crawl to remember — from Jose Luis Leon’s (Licoreria Limontour) craft cocktails with a Latin vibe to Kayama San’s (Benfiddich) “farm to bar” approach. “It’s a slice of the best of world mixology that you can experience without having to buy a round-the-world ticket,” says Prakash.

Brand conscious

I’ve been to a few shows around the world, including the Berlin Bar Convent, which is more trade focussed, and the Oktoberfest, an out-and-out consumer festival. I’m expecting the Biennale to be a blend of the two, with a core visitor set comprising drinks enthusiasts and beverage influencers.

Tasting studio

  • As a more permanent encore, Prakash is planning to set up The Vault Tasting Studio in the city, a space which, as he puts it, is “for connoisseurs and by connoisseurs”. He is inviting 150 members to sign up (early bird memberships from ₹2.5, ₹2.75 and ₹3 lakh, depending on which block of 50 members you make it into). Apart from access to the studio, which will be staffed by a world-class mixologist, and which will play host to a series of beverage experiences, members will also get a locker at The Vault, where they can store up to four bottles of their own. The Tasting Studio will function like a regular bar also, stocked with a range of hard-to-find spirits from around the world, some specially imported for the space. For more details, log on to vaulttasingstudio.com.

A host of companies and brands are already on board, with more expected. Some of the big ones are Pernod Ricard (represented by brands like Jameson Caskmates, Monkey 47, The Glenlivet and more), William Grant and Sons (Glenfiddich, Hendrick’s, The Balvenie) and Remy Cointreau (The Botanist, Remy Martin). Leading Indian brands like Amrut and Paul John have also signed up, as well as new kids on the block such as Goa-based gin brand, Stranger and Sons. The Biennale will also feature some names possibly for the first time in India, including Hernö Sloe Gin, Mezcal Meteoro and Rumbullion rum, among others. There are a host of brands I’m waiting to try, including Calvados, the apple brandy from France, represented here by Christian Drouin; Aviation, one of America’s first craft gins; and the exciting range of Compass Box Whiskies from Scotland, represented here by The Spaniard and The Flaming Heart.

“While the entire world looks to India to source not only botanicals but also to explore its provenance to fit their brand and identity, for Stranger & Sons gin, the Vault Biennale is a great platform to showcase the rise of high-quality premium craft spirits being distilled in the country,” says Sakshi Saigal, from Stranger and Sons.

Prakash recommends the Aroma Masterclass by Alan Gordon, Managing Director of Scotland-based Aroma Academy, where enthusiasts and connoisseurs can learn to nose like a professional. I can think of no better way to spend a February weekend in Mumbai.

Tickets, at ₹3,800, on in.bookmyshow.com, with restricted entries per day.

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