Bangalore's Single Malt Amateur Club is creating a community of people passionate about whisky
Amid a notable evolution in India’s whisky culture, Bangalore-based Single Malt Amateur Club is creating a band of whisky lovers. The club now has 3,800 members, and offers whisky tours, tasting sessions, master classes, specialty glassware, and more.
BenRiach. Aberfeldy. The Balvenie. Aberlour. Bowmore. Bruichladdich. The GlenRothes. Old Pulteney. Lagavulun. Oban.
Scotland may have traditionally been the preserve of single malt whisky, but scotch is now being produced across the world. Japanese single malt climbing up the popularity charts (think Yamakazi, Hibiki, and Suntory), and India is also making its own single malts, including Bangalore-based Amrut and Goa-based Paul John.
India's love for single malts is growing, which is why Hemanth Rao and Harsha Thimmaiah launched Bangalore-based Single Malt Amateur Club in 2011. It was meant to primarily act as a platform for amateurs, professionals, and connoisseurs to share experiences and information on single malt whisky.
“It essentially is a community of people who have a passion for whisky. Given our experience and presence over the last 10 years, we also provide a platform for distillers and distributors to launch and showcase their products.
"In addition to this, we curate whisky tours, host tasting sessions and conduct master classes. We also pride ourselves on being the only club in India that has exclusive bottlings for members. These limited editions are based on the palate preferences of the group,” Hemanth says.
Scotch whisky is categorised into various types such as single malt, blended malt, and single grain, among others. To be considered a single malt scotch, the whisky must be distilled from a mash bill of 100 percent malted barley at one distillery and aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks.
“Most information on single malt whisky is tuned to western taste buds and expressions. We wanted to add a touch of India by giving tasting notes and reviews that readers can understand and relate to. We wanted to create awareness, allowing members to identify quality whiskies and appreciate them in the right manner. And, lastly, just purely out of the love for the spirit and its history, it was started with one goal: to bring together people from different realms who share a passion for single malt whisky.”
All things whisky
Single Malt Amateur Club now has 3,800 members from across the globe, and does “all things whisky”! This includes tasting sessions for members, which are fun-filled, casual sessions to explore the flavours of different whiskies to master classes that provides edutainment around the subjects of whisky production, maturation and consumption.
The club also provides a range of specialty glassware for whisky connoisseurs. A strong partner programme helps the club work with distilleries to help members get their hands on the latest releases.
“All this and more are communicated to the members through our monthly newsletter called the Whisky Statement,” Hemanth says. “We have always believed that whisky is for everyone, hence we have the ‘Amateur’ tag in our name. The membership to SMAC is free. Anyone above 21 can register on our website.”
Depending on the season and new launches, the club tries to plan one event a month – this is a mixt of tasting sessions, new launches, and master classes. “Due to the pandemic, we have also evolved and done educational talks, and virtual experiences as well. Private events and corporate sessions are planned on a request basis.”
A small fee is charged for curated events that are available only to SMAC members.
Cheers to the team
Hemanth says he’s a Bangalore-based IT professional whose “keen interest in the rich history of whisky led him on an exciting exploration since the late 1990s”. His curiosity about the unique stories behind every bottle took him on many adventures to hone his skills and further his collection – from the distilleries in Scotland and Ireland to the hills of Solan and the shores of Goa.
Harsha is a graduate in hospitality and dabbles in industrial manufacturing and professional tennis management. The ardent beer love’s initial experiences with whisky involved “Glenfiddich and Coke”.
As he gained deeper knowledge on how to properly consume and appreciate a single malt, he began enjoying single malt whiskies from the Highland, Speyside, and Islay regions. He e joined the Single Malt Amateur Club as a partner in 2016, a decision that stemmed from the strong friendship and comfort he shared with Hemanth.
Harsha is the driving force behind SMAC’s operations and together the duo aim to take the club’s initiatives pan-India.
“Over the years, Harsha has observed an increasing number of distilleries and locally manufactured whisky options emerging in India. He has been consistently working towards a more inclusive whisky culture – with a goal to make single malt whisky experiences accessible and affordable for all,” Hemanth says.
Salut! The future is bright
According to Expert Market Research, the Indian whisky market reached a volume of 1.35 billion litres in 2020. In the forecast period of 2021-2026, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17 percent to reach 2.82 billion by 2026.
The past decade has witnessed a notable evolution in India’s whisky culture.
“Perhaps the most important change being that it is no longer perceived as an ‘old man’s drink’. New-age whisky drinkers comprise young men and women, who are starting to enjoy whisky and are genuinely interested in the history behind their drinks. There has also been a growing interest in whisky collection across the country with more home-grown reputed brands.
"The arrival of these private players and boutique stores, as well as the sheer range of Indian single malt options available has further transformed the way India drinks whisky,” Hemanth says.
He adds that as the whisky culture in India continues to evolve, the Single Malt Amateur Club aims to strengthen its presence nationally and “make single malt whisky more inclusive, accessible, and affordable”.
“We hope to grow bigger in number in the years to come to bring together people from different realms who share a passion for single malt whisky. Once travel eases up, we hope to curate a South-East Asia whisky trail for our members so they can experience some unicorn whiskies,” Hemanth says.
Edited by Teja Lele