Status in a bottle, whisky takes off in China

Tue May 17, 2011 2:49pm EDT
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By David Jones and Melanie Lee

LONDON/SHANGHAI (Reuters Life!) - Darren Hosie knows all the best bars on Shanghai's historic Bund.

There's the Bar Rouge with its flaming drinks, house music and turbocharged hedonism; M on the Bund which channels 1930s sophistication; and Lounge 18 whose expensive wood paneling and wall to ceiling glass windows exude a more modern glamour.

Hosie has lived in China for the past three years and is well accustomed to the tastes and whims of the country's new business elite -- the legions of bankers, entrepreneurs, traders and second-generation wealthy, known as "princelings," who think nothing of dropping $200 on a bottle of French wine or $1,000 on a bottle of scotch whisky that they'll then mix with green tea.

Tonight the Scotsman is in the Shanghai Tang bar, watering hole of China's best known luxury label. Sitting on a straight-backed, wooden chair in front of a tasting audience, Hosie is clean-shaven ahead of an evening of whisky-nosing and tasting sessions.

Born and bred in Glasgow, the 37-year-old has spent the past seven years working for scotch whisky giant Pernod Ricard and since August 2007 he has lived in China as international brand ambassador for the firm's top whisky brands Chivas Regal, Ballantine's and The Glenlivet.

In a lilting Scottish accent, Hosie explains the joys of whisky and its sure-footed advance into China. As he describes the different types of whisky that the spellbound audience are about to taste -- malty, peaty, smoky -- a few give approving responses.

Hosie says that for palates accustomed to baijiu, China's fiery sorghum- or rice-based spirit, the flavor and smoothness of whisky can have instant appeal. Mix it with what you like -- water, ice or green tea -- he says. Just remember the care that has gone into aging and blending the best.

Hosie starts his work with bartenders -- training them on different tastes and styles of whiskies and organizing tastings so they can tell a blend from a single malt and appreciate the way the drink improves with careful aging.   Continued...

<p>Bottles of whiskey are displayed at a supermarket in Shanghai March 9, 2011. REUTERS/Aly Song</p>