Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Black Dog Evening

Whiskey is one of the most interesting things in the world. Each whiskey is different from another with its distinct characteristics, color, smell and feel. I vaguely knew some of these facts but didn’t know the technicalities that go into chiseling these traits and making a whiskey different from another. I woke up to these facts on Saturday, at Habanero, a Mexican restaurant, where Black Dog held a scotch-tasting event.

Black Dog has three blends (12 years, 18 years and 21 years ) and each one has its own characteristics and maturity. And at Black Dog Easy Evening, Mohit Nishchol the compare (and a liquor consultant) took us through the entire ritual of tasting and explained each characteristic of the variants.

Each part of the tasting ritual (sipping a peg, rolling it in your mouth and then quietly swallowing it letting the drink slowly make its way down your innards) is meant to reveal a particular aspect of the liquor’s personality – colour, aroma, palate and finish. These characteristics come from two factors, the region where a whiskey has been processed and the number of years it has been stored in a barrel.

Each blend of Black Dog is a collective of whiskeys coming from different regions of Scotland with their distinct regional characteristics (aroma, taste, flavor) and barreled for a particular period of time, giving each blend a completely different flavor and taste.

Black Dog 12 Years Old is a blend of whiskeys from Speyside, Islay, Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, each matured for a minimum of 12 years which contribute to its colour, taste and flavor. After I sipped it, Mohit asked me for my reaction and I was lost for words. I felt it had a network of flavors, some working in the foreground and some lurking behind. I said it was robust and had a woody taste.

Mohit agreed and mentioned a few more streams of flavor and taste that Black Dog 12 Years is supposed to have, like fruitiness and vanillic sweetness. I tried to feel the taste again by rolling my sip in mouth and it did reveal some of these tastes in whiffs and bits.

Mohit informed each blend acquires its taste from the ingredients used to make it (which, in the case of Black Dog, are again dependent on which regions of Scotland the whiskies come from) and the barrel in which it is kept for maturing. The inner wood of the barrel constantly interacts with the liquor aging together with the liquor and giving the liquor its color and flavour which undergo changes (in tone and intensity) as years roll on. It’s just like a human relationship.

When I tossed back a sip of Black Dog 18 Years, it seemed to have a soft lingering effect on my tongue. Black Dog 18 Years owes it to the fact that it has been matured in oak casks and vats and is an outcome of aged malt and grain whiskies blended together. But what I found most pleasant about Black Dog is when you finally gulp the whiskey, even without diluting it with water or anything else, it goes down smoothly and pleasantly without the feeling of a fire ball rolling down your throat. This, according to me, is the attribute of a good whiskey.

As Mohit was taking us through the testing rituals, a blogger asked in interesting question: “Have these blends changed overtime to suit changing tastes and market priorities.”

In 1883, Walter Millard, a Scot staying in India, travelled to Scotland searching for a good whiskey and discovered a blend created by James Mackinlay, of the second generation of the Leith Scotch Whisky blending family. Being a keen angler himself, Walter Millard named the whisky Black Dog in honour of his favourite salmon fishing fly used in the Spey and Tay rivers of Scotland.

Mohit informed it’s been about 120 years since, and to this day, Black Dog has retained its original blend.

A regal-looking-oval bottle with intense color arrived at our table – Black Dog 21 Years old scotch. Mohit asked us to take a generous mouthful and hold it over and under the tongue – to unlock its traits. I did, and after that, I churned the whiskey in my mouth and left it for fraction of a second…and found the aftertaste too aromatic for my liking.

Partly that’s expected because Black Dog 21 is most mature of all the blends and is specially made and crafted to be rich and rare in experience, which it, of course, is. And it perfectly lives up to the awe it causes when you set your sight on its bottle and the special ingredients used to bring it to what it is.

Some of us truly liked it, but, for me, the lighter ones worked better. I discovered whether you enjoy a whiskey or not, it depends on your reaction (which is guided by your innate taste and temperament) to the drink, which varies from person to person.

Chicken Wings
  As drinks share a complex relationship with the barrel in which they are matured, they also have an equation with the food you savor your drinks with. And Habanero had arranged for a variety of Mexican food items to go with our drinks. Except a few, I liked all of them. But the one accompaniment I enjoyed the most with my drinks was dark nutty chocolates: they didn’t interfere with the taste of the drinks and complemented instead of dominating them.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Biography of Twitter

It’s surprising how far Twitter has come in a short period of time. I still remember joining Tweeter about a year and half ago and being greeted by some friends who were already on it. Since then a lot has happened. I have got new followers, added new people to the list of people I follow, been witness to changes and developments at a national and global level, read new articles and posted blogs. Some six or so months back a prominent journalist had tweeted if we are developing a Twitter fatigue. Well, I have not and I continue to find Twitter exciting.

It was launched in 2005 and took about two years to become popular. And although, when it started becoming popular, many called it an alternative to Facebook, Twitter was neither modeled on FB nor had been meant to rival it. FB was originally launched as a photo sharing app which eventually became a platform where you could do several other things around networking apart from photo sharing.

Twitter, on the other hand, was launched a networking site where you could only post short (140 letters) messages. Given the succinct nature of messages, it never became another FB-like site and established an alternate pattern of networking, less chatty and more impersonal, promoting, in sum, the kind of messages you wouldn't share with a friend or a family member but a person you shared an interest with. This is why Twitter became a platform to engage with others on issues of public interest, politics, social issues, films, books etc.

There are enough rabble rousers on Twitter but very few people who have no opinion or at least are not on a networking site to express them or review them based on others', the type FB mills with.

But does Twitter have an impact? Last week, the India govt blocked the Twitter accounts of some journalists and social commentators because they had attacked the government. A couple of days later, however, their Twitter accounts were unblocked again. Nothing can establish Twitter’s power better than this flip flop by the govt. First, fearing that a few Tweets might cause a fire, you block an account; then realizing that blocking will lead to a backlash both on and offline helping the blocked person to become the face of opposition, you unblock his account again.

This kind of incident is not new to Twitter. While I have been on Twitter, the site has faced threats and demands from various governments and heads of states (China being one of them and very frequently so) demanding that Twitter content be sanitized, dissenters blocked, etc. Although Twitter resisted the demands to block sites or give sanitized content initially, eventually it gave into the coercion, promising to sanitize content based on regional preferences/threats.

You can’t blame Twitter for this because the networking site may be one without national boundaries but its servers are vulnerable to being blocked by national governments and their cyber security apparatus. There are ways to circumvent even that but lack of easy access to the site will still shoo away some users from the site.

Twitter is not the only networking site that has suffered this fate and no networking site can avoid this for too long. And, if you were not a starry-eyed idealist, you would realize that toning down content is more preferable to being blocked. However, this whole cycle of people expressing their dissenting views and governments asking networking sites to block them or remove dissenting content and the networking sites resisting the demands – is not a futile affair.

The bad press governments receive each time they try to curtail networking sites’ freedom will eventually make them hesitant about attacking networking sites and push their boundary of tolerance a little further . And each time a new fight between governments and dissenters breaks out, it will be fought from a point where the boundaries had been laid last time, making each clash a step towards a more tolerant world. That’s the role Twitter has played since its birth together with other networking sites.

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