A single sitting with fine spirits curator Keshav Prakash can immediately have you reassessing the worth of your liquor cabinet. His ability to home in on the finest single malts and liquors across the globe has led to the creation of ‘The Vault’ — an importer and distributor of some of the best-aged single malts in the world.
Exhibit A: the Vault recently facilitated the sale of a bottle of the world’s oldest single malt to a private buyer of Indian origin. “Being allotted even one of the hundred bottles that were available is a testament to how far we’ve come as distributors. After all, we don’t know if there will ever be another 75 year-old whisky”, Prakash says.
As far as collectibles go, spirits aren’t as easy to curate as vintage comics or Louis XIII’s cutlery — there’s a lot more to it than meticulous packaging. Preserving whisky is particularly tricky, since it loses its alcoholic strength every year — go below the 40 per cent ABV mark and you’re no longer dealing with whisky. This particular whisky, Prakash informs me, was encased in a sherry cask, which remained in the possession of a single family for over four generations, each generation fastidiously preserving its integrity and ensuring that the cask wood didn’t compromise the integrity of the whisky.
That said, getting too caught up in the composition of one’s whisky isn’t always the best way to appreciate it, according to Prakash, who even founded an underground whisky appreciation club that encourages blind tasting sessions. The Vault also hosts tasting and food pairing sessions at Vetro at the Oberoi and Chambers at the Taj, among others.
Presumably, then, being a raconteur comes with the territory of curating fine spirits. His background as an ad film-maker in Mumbai further confirms his fondness for storytelling. “I know the art of telling a story in 30 seconds, so I know how to curate a moment for a person.” Although he relishes a tête-à-tête over a glass of mezcal as much as anyone else, Prakash’s audience ranges from 10 to 200, since he’s held tasting sessions for IBM, Etihad, Mercedes-Benz and so on.
His schedule usually includes extensive travel across the globe, interacting with a multitude of communities and distilleries over locally brewed and distilled spirits. “I just came back after a month on the road in Mexico, going deep into the villages to discover mezcal.” Backpacking across the globe, trading adventures with the aid of a perfect social lubricant like alcohol sounds like a gap-year student’s fantasy, but as charmed as such a life sounds, it takes years to distill such a barrage of sensory experiences and select the ones which would suit the customer the best.
“Bringing your palate to a level where you can appreciate fine whiskies is a challenge. It took me a year to learn to appreciate cognac”, says Prakash, who’s the only certified cognac educator in India. This allows The Vault to possess a pretty exhaustive portfolio, which sources single malts from American, Taiwanese, Tasmanian and Scottish distilleries, among others. I’m told that nearly every category of distilled spirits can be found in The Vault, with mezcal and gin being the latest additions to the collection.
One would assume that such well-aged spirits decorate the bars of an older demographic, but Keshav’s interactions suggest that people in their 30’s and early 40’s are far more eager to experiment with their drinks.