Savoy celebrates its induction into IHCL’s legacy hotel range with a whisky Sensology Experience
At first glance, the Savoy imparts the impression of a colonial-styled building, where time has stayed still since it was converted into a hotel and later acquired by the Taj Group. With its cream-coloured, chimneyed cottage rooms that are strung together and well-manicured lawns where evenings are spent over a spot of tea and a game of croquet, a vacation here attempts to relive the glory days of the Raj-era, which is just par for the course in the Nilgiris. So, when we heard that the Savoy was sprucing up its 190-year-old heritage property, our curiosity immediately kicked in.
Postcards from the past
A five-hour drive from Coimbatore, including multiple detours to avoid the tourist traffic pouring into the town of Ooty, and we were at the historic building that once housed the likes of King Edward VII and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Originally constructed as a school by European missionaries in 1829, the building was rechristened The Dawson’s Hotel in 1841 and has remained one of the most sought after stays in The Nilgiris since.
As we walked in, we notice the subtle signs of a makeover—the new entrance and lobby, for starters. “Very little had changed at Savoy since 1841,” begins Ritesh Choudhary, the new general manager. “It’s taken us the latter half of 2018 to renovate the place and revamp the operations to offer guests a uniquely local experience. We now have a brand new restaurant, the Dining Room, and a gorgeous looking Canterbury Bar,” he tells us, as we take off the hand-knotted eucalyptus garlands.
Chosen as one of 12 properties from across the country, the refurbishing falls in line with Savoy’s induction into a new brand of curated hotels by the Indian Hotels Company Limited (the parent company of The Taj), called SeleQtions. “This allows the hotel to maintain its identity, autonomous of the Taj tag and offer locally curated services and experiences.”
Our first hyperlocal tryst was over a quick salad lunch at the recently launched Canterbury Bar, where we savoured their take on a classic hot toddy. Infused with some of the finest locally grown black tea, the Blue Mountain Toddy is a spicy mix of dark rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom powder and pepper honey and made for a warm, easy drink on a chilly afternoon in the hills. “Mixing tea with a spirit is the art of respectfully combining nature’s most indulgent beverages,” says Om Prakash, the F&B manager, as he hands us the Nilgiri Tea Shower — a gin and black tea concoction.
While the tea mixology celebrates Savoy’s fine collection of spirits, it is the Sensology Experience by The Glenlivet (on the occasion of the hotel’s new legacy tag) that had everyone’s attention. A masterclass with Stuart Baxter, the ambassador for The Glenlivet’s single malts in India, our experience included the blind tasting of three different single malts—The Glenlivet 12, 15 and 18. Our individual goal: to determine the whiskies in front of us using cards that feature expressions from the whiskies portfolio and tasting notes. “It is always best to add a little bit of water. One teaspoon of water per one and a half ounces of 80-proof whisky,” Stuart urges.
Multiple swirls, sips and sniffs later, the fruity and nutty flavours combined with undertones of spice from the 15-year-old single malt, reserved in French oak casks, is the only one that we managed to get right. While the rich fruit aroma and toffee notes of the 18-year-old and dark chocolate with ginger and cinnamon of the 12-year-old had us on the fence. This brought us to, perhaps, our most important question of the evening: How important is ageing? “Different whiskies take to ageing differently. There are some that are better to drink when they are young,” Stuart says.
What’s your blend?
A collective sigh later, we realised we weren’t the only ones who favoured the smooth, well-rounded goodness of the 15-year-old that soon became the preferred pairing for the smoked salmon and mousse tartlets and the crispy shrimp kunafa with saffron aioli from our six-course degustation menu. As we sipped on the showstopper of the night—the antique gold-coloured spirit, and cut into the grilled lamb chops with mushy green peas and a pinot jus, if there was one piece of wisdom from Stuart that all of us agreed on, it was: “Trust your judgement. You drink for your pleasure. Buy something that you enjoy and then drink it the way you like.”
Rooms at the Savoy start at Rs 9,500++
The writer was at Savoy, Ooty for the Sensology Experience on invitation.