At south Indian weddings, guests generally carry home a coconut. But now the host can choose to slip in a bottle of whisky,” says Harsha Thimmaiah, partner at the Bengaluru-based Single Malts Amateur Club (SMAC) that organises launches, tours and masterclasses centred on whisky for Scotch enthusiasts. A niche part of their work involves weddings, with exclusive bottling and curated whisky tastings.
“The idea is to offer something unforgettable,” notes Nikhil Agarwal, sommelier and founder of the luxury spirits consultancy All Things Nice. During the pandemic, perhaps, these experiences gained greater significance, with plans for destination weddings upended by travel challenges. Grand gestures showcase the generosity of the host and pamper guests—what else does one need for a memorable wedding party?
Agarwal has organised several curated drink sessions at weddings. “We have done this for very wealthy families who want to really wow their guests. They won’t do a Glenlivet 12- or 15-year-old that are popular; they want bottles that are rare and unknown.” At one such wedding, he organised a “wines of the world programme” with top label bottles from different parts of the world. There was a super Tuscan, a high-end Bordeaux, a Chablis from Burgundy, and more. To put this in perspective, a premium super Tuscan can cost upwards of ₹20,000 for a 750ml bottle.
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For another wedding, he organised a whisky tasting focused on 18-year-old bottles from different distilleries.
A third format is this-versus-that, with Scotch aged in cherry casks up against peated whiskies. For such curations, Agarwal says, the theme and selection are important.
Thimmaiah shares similar ideas: region-focused, this-versus-that, and tastings. They have even done blind tastings with hand-held rating devices where guests can judge a drink on parameters like the nose, palate and finish. “After the whole exercise was over, some have said, ‘really this is what I have been drinking all my life and I have given it such a poor rating?’. This is the fun part, it adds a little twist.”
Exclusive bottles have become part of the luxury wedding extravaganza. One can choose to have a personalised label or make a dram from scratch. “Both are cumbersome,” says Thrivikram G. Nikam, joint managing director, Amrut Distilleries. It can take up to eight months to get the label registered—usually with the name of the newly-weds. Those who wish to make a whisky have to book a cask for three-four years.
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All this needs meticulous planning. Nikam has had clients who wanted to be completely involved in the production process and document each step. “They take photos of themselves adding some barley into the grinder, pouring the unmatured spirit into casks and then sampling it at each stage of maturation. It adds up to the storytelling when the final product is ready,” he says.
One can opt to visit the distillery, choose a cask—Nikam mentions cherry wood, oloroso and ex-bourbon—reserve it till it matures, get the labelling sorted and then bottle it for guests. Each cask can produce about 140 litres; the price for booking it depends on the wood, and whether the client wants a blended Scotch or a single malt.
Nikam hesitates when asked about pricing. “It’s very exclusive, and we don’t do this for everyone.” Without dropping names, he says that in 2017 they did an “exclusive bottling for a royal wedding”. At that reception, guests were given a bottle of Amrut Special Exclusive edition as a return gift. The operative phrase is one-of-a-kind limited edition.
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The homegrown wine label Vallonne Vineyards, in Maharashtra, offers personalised bottling and cask ownership too. A Print story, published earlier this month, reports that the wine is aged in a 28-litre barrel that yields 38 bottles; those interested can pick from different grapes.
The end goal is about making guests feel welcome. If they prefer another spirit, Old Monk for example, the host can have a cocktail menu featuring only this spirit. Agarwal has organised gin tastings too. “Now,” he says, “more and more people want to do something new with tequila and mezcal.”