Taking whisky knowledge to next level!

Taking whisky knowledge to next level!

Celebrated mixologist and Highball lover, Greg Benson, in a freewheeling chat talks about his stint as a host of the second season of ‘You Got Chef’d!’, favourite whisky game and throws light on how to choose good whisky for parties...

Having been brought up in Scotland, Greg Benson, Dewar's India brand ambassador, is no stranger to a good whisky. Whilst he was studying Chemical Engineering, the bug for great whisky bit him.

Throughout the past 8 years, Greg has worked in some of the best cocktail bars in Scotland and is a well-respected name in the Scottish bartending scene, regularly leading tastings and training sessions.

Deciding to take his whisky knowledge to the next level, Greg completed the famous MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University, the most respected distillation degree in the world. Following this, he worked as a distiller

for a new, up and coming distillery in the Highlands. Greg doesn't just have whisky knowledge from a book, he has hands-on experience making it! Greg reckons he has sampled around 2,000 different whiskies, so he knows exactly what to look for in a quality dram.

It is the passion Greg has for whisky that has led Greg on this journey to the other side of the world. He can't wait to get people as excited about whisky as him, and his background means he's just as happy chatting highballs and whisky sours as he is mashing and distillation.

Greg, along with celebrity chef Ranveer Brar, is hosting the second season of 'You Got Chef'd!'

The series brings to light millennial occasions like brunch parties, jam sessions etc, where food and cocktails are becoming important factors especially whether they're Instagrammable or not. The show's second season features names like Nakuul Mehta, Barkha Singh, Arjun Kanungo and Ayush Mehra. The celebrities face a fun 'double challenge' preparing a home-style version of a dish alongside chef Ranveer's gourmet version, while Greg gets them to play crazy whisky games and bar tricks.

Excerpts from an interview

Tell us about your experience in 'You Got Chef'd!' Season 2.

Curating Scotch whisky cocktails on camera and collaborating with some of India's biggest digital celebrities and chefs was definitely a first for me. I got the chance to create some interesting cocktails alongside Chef Ranveer Brar's gourmet-style home food dishes, like Burmese Khowsuey and Cheese Burst Pizza.

To make some noise around Dewar's unique double-ageing process, we introduced the 'double challenge' this season. To ace the challenge and be 'Chef'd!', the guests had to give cooking a shot with Chef Ranveer and then pull off a bar trick thrown in by me to score six points! All of the guests took the challenges very sportingly and that made it double the fun. In fact, Shweta Tripathi aced the throwing cocktail technique and she should definitely try her hand at creating some of her own curations!

What is your favourite whisky game?

Hands down, Whisky Pong! We recently created this game at 'The Doers Club' experience where consumers win a free Highball cocktail if they manage to land three tennis balls in cups placed at a height.

What is your favourite Highball and why?

It varies from experience to experience and season to season for me. Recently, I've been enjoying classic Highballs with a touch of Angostura bitters. It's simply a large measure of whisky, topped up with soda. An orange peel adds some fresh citrus character whilst two dashes of Angostura bitters provides some rich spice.

The great thing about Highballs is that, though they're simple to curate, they bring alive the essential flavours of whisky with the most interesting ingredients. I've also been experimenting with some Indian ingredients in Highball cocktails. In one of the episodes of 'You Got Chef'd!' 2, I whipped up a Mosambi and Lassi Highball and it resulted in a delectable drink.

How did this career happen?

During my engineering course at Strathclyde University, I found a new passion for whisky while bartending to support my degree. The world of whisky intrigued me and I enrolled in the Brewing & Distilling M.Sc. at Heriot-Watt University post engineering. Incidentally, it's the most respected distillation course in the world. After working as a Master Distiller in Aberdeenshire in northern Scotland for a while, the opportunity to move to India as Dewar's India Ambassador came up and I simply couldn't resist!

What gives Scotch whisky its distinctive flavour and bouquet?

Specific malts and grains are selected to create the flavour palate and then blended together to create a Blended Scotch whisky. They're then matured in casks. Several factors like the grain of choice, type of cask, temperature and the general environment of the distillery, impact the final flavour and colour of Scotch whisky. The cask, especially, brings a distinct wood flavour such as vanilla or coconut or cinnamon, adding further nuances to the whisky.

How to choose the best whisky?

Scotch whisky is an experience in itself. It's very important to choose a variation you'd enjoy and is suitable to your palate. There's some effort involved in picking the right variant, but the results are worth it!

Start with looking around at the stores near you, and the bar you frequent for what's available out there. Be bold, try out flavours and blends you haven't sipped before. Nose it, breathe in the Scotch from the rim of your glass and then take a sip and chew it, to truly taste all the flavours. Most importantly, pay attention to the age statement on the label. Age brings in the smoothness and enhances the flavours of the whisky. Each Scotch must be aged for a minimum of three years for it to qualify as Scotch. The ones with no age statement on the labels are three years aged and others mention it on the label. Some folks go an extra mile, like Dewar's, who double-age their whiskies. Meaning, it's aged, blended and aged again to blend again for extra smoothness.

The most important thing though is to take the time to enjoy your whisky. Picking the right one is a thorough exercise, so reap the benefits by giving it the time and attention it deserves.

Once you've picked your Scotch, it's time to pair it with the right food. It's a lot easier than people think! Get started by understanding the flavours in the Scotch whisky and then pick dishes that can boost them.

Why do whiskies produced in different distilleries vary in flavour?

No whisky is the same. Each variant of Scotch whisky differs from the other and holds different flavour profiles. Yet, it's interesting that each one of them is made from the same three ingredients – water, malted barley and yeast, using more or less the same processes of milling, mashing, fermentation and distillation. The casks used for maturation make all the difference to the resultant flavour. The wood of the casks brings Scotch its flavour and colour. This is the magic behind two neighbouring distilleries producing flavour profiles completely unique from each other and filled with distinct intricacies.

What part of your job do you love most?

Experimenting with new flavours and ingredients from each region, whenever I travel, has been the most interesting aspect of mixology for me. At Dewar's, I have had the opportunity to co-curate menus and experiences with celebrated chefs. In essence, the real joy is to bring consumers newer ways to experience their dream. At the end of the day, all effort and creativity must result in a delectable cocktail that the consumer enjoys. Witnessing that contentment is definitely one of the special moments in my work.

What are your plans for the future?

It's exciting to be leading newer, cooler Scotch whisky experiences, with Dewar's, for globetrotting Indian millennials seeking and expecting the best of global experiences and styles back home. I've been in the country for barely three months and already have had a chance to be a part of a great number of properties, from our 'The Doers Club' experience at BNH7 Weekender to hosting an evening-style version of it with the likes of Pooja Dhingra and Rhea Kapoor in Mumbai. In addition, I've co-hosted 'You Got Chef'd!' Season 2 with Chef Ranveer Brar. And that's just the beginning. Dewar's has several interesting properties lined up this year and I can't wait to reimagine Scotch with our audiences and customers, in the experiences we have lined up for them.

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