Sipping whisky, stirring cocktails, travelling around the globe for work, and dispelling myths around the aspirational & exclusive scotch – you’d probably guffaw if we said that’s a description de poste. Well then we’d have to guffaw back and introduce you to Rohan Bhardwaj, the first Indian brand ambassador for one of the world’s most revered whisky – Grant’s. This sartorial gent with a wicked sense of humour has an undying love for scotch whisky and is demystifying it one cocktail at a time. “It’s a glorious liquid and demonstrating knowledge of its creation and an admiration for its potential is my raison d’etre,” he says. Catching up over an Old Fashioned (we kid, we had three. Okay fine, six.), we distill everything whisky and William Grant & Sons with Rohan Bhardwaj in this #DSSCExclusive.
Established in the UK banking industry, Bhardwaj couldn’t peel his fascination away from whisky, and scotch distilleries often helmed his travel itineraries. “I was fascinated by the different whisky profiles originating from the small regions in Scotland,” he shares. Returning to India in 2013, his calling came knocking in the form of The Awesome Job (Grant’s campaign for a brand ambassador driven by nominations through social media), “I used to continuously talk about whisky and my friends got tired of me preaching, so they put forward my name for it.” Armed with an unparalleled zeal for the drink and overwhelming support, Bhardwaj was announced the brand ambassador for Grant’s in 2015. A trip to the distillery was the first to-do on this aficionado’s list and it came adorned with a chance meet with David Cameron, then British Prime Minister, “I found myself sitting right behind him on the flight to Glasgow and we enjoyed a brief chat.” Virtues of the gent’s métier are aplenty and the shining jewel of this tour was indeed the visit to Grant’s top-secret, closed-doors distillery, “The dedication and commitment of people who make Grant’s takes whisky to a whole new level and my already high admiration for it multiplied manifold upon witnessing that.” With the bags packed and passport stamped for Scotland on the very first day of the job, this whisky connoisseur has been on-the-go ever since, “It’s a lifestyle, you’re always switched on. You’re a living, breathing embodiment of the brand and you have to live the values you represent, because there is so much hard work that has gone into building it.”
An awe-inspiring legacy built by five generations over 130 years, Grant’s has a bequest second to none. A family run business till date, Bhardwaj shares that their ardour to consistently produce award-winning whiskies is undeterred, “They’ve stood through thick and thin to become one of the most sought after whisky in the industry.” A conviction to educate the world about this liquor and an occupation that demands it; he shares, “I want to delight people with this brilliant liquid; Be it bartenders, hoteliers, restaurateurs, media, alcohol enthusiasts, or just someone waiting for their date.” Sharing experiences and changing perceptions about whisky, for Bhardwaj the exploits are nothing short of extraordinary, “Watching people’s reaction when they try Grant’s or one of our cocktails for the first time is priceless. I sometimes can’t believe I’m paid to do this job.” A strong advocate of “Drink your whisky your way,” Bhardwaj furthers the cause by pushing the envelope and breaking the barriers that engulf this spirit through cocktails. “It’s traditionally seen as a drink our fathers or grandfathers enjoy with their mates, but that is far, far from reality. Whisky is for everyone!” he proclaims. Introducing us to our new go-to that is as potent as G&T, he is quick to add, “G&G (Grant’s & Ginger Ale) is the new code of drinking whisky, and long may it continue.” While doyens might promote neat as the way to go, Bhardwaj opines, “There is no law that forces you to drink it the way others do; whisky can be smooth and approachable.”
As we reach the bottom of our glass, the gent shares how the alcohol-beverage industry in India is miles behind the global counterparts, “Alcohol in India has been a taboo for a long time and still is if you step outside the metro cities.” Talking about how the industry had a skewed presence of women for the longest time, he says, “Back in the day, you had to be very brave to enter this industry as a woman. However, that wasn’t ever the case outside India. Women are credited for the invention of beer; Maria Hebraea invented the alembic still, used for making brandy and whisky; William Grant’s daughters Isabella and Meta were instrumental in setting up Grant’s and Glenfiddich; Lesley Gracie created the Hendrick’s Gin (now, where would we be without Hendrick’s?); and Lorena Vasquez is the master blender at Zacapa.” Though a new wave of change is pushing the country in the right direction and Bhardwaj shares how the industry is witnessing women rise to power, “It’s great to see some exceptional female mixologists and bar managers stirring up a storm and many brands in India are now being led by women.”
As the whisky enthusiast gets set to board yet another flight and host yet another smashing cocktail party in yet another locale, he shares, “Beneath all the bells & whistles it’s all about this precious liquor.” With a salut! is how we part, but not before the DSSC signature rapid fire.
One thing you love about the industry?
Rohan: I love the fact that there is a lot of mutual respect amongst all the Scotch whisky producers and that we learn a lot from each other. The dedication of the people in this industry is unreal. We have people in our distilleries who have been working there for over 50 years. Its eye-opening!
The most intriguing tipple you’ve tasted till date?
Rohan: An old fashioned with a butter chicken fat wash.
Your go-to cocktail?
Rohan: An old fashioned; it’s the simplest but also the easiest to get wrong.
A quick tip for an amateur taking over the bar?
Rohan: Practice makes perfect. Stay away from YouTube and do not work with ingredients you have limited or no knowledge about.
A must-stir recipe for enthusiasts and reluctants alike?
Rohan: Blood and Sand. It’s perfect for Delhi weather. Shake 1 part Grant’s whisky, 1 part freshly squeezed orange juice, ¾ part sweet vermouth, and ¾ part cherry brandy with ice for about 12 seconds. Strain in a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with cherry.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of DSSC & its affiliates.