Hubert Burda Media

Making scents of whisky with Barnabé Fillion

A whiff of whisky and a whirlwind of nature’s essence stimulate the senses, as creative advisor to Royal Salute, perfumer Barnabé Fillion, fronts a one-of-a-kind Olfactory Studio experience in Jodhpur, India.

Royal Salute 21 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (Photo: Royal Salute)

The sky is spotless. There’s not a single cloud in sight. Its hue: A pale blue that’s similar to the shade of houses many choose to have coated in this dry, desert land. Apparently the colour helps to cool interiors against the scorching heat during summer.

But in December, Jodhpur is blessed with a breezy, almost-salubrious climate. And the weather is perfect for al fresco dining and chukkas of polo. Hosted by the Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur, Gajsingh II, British Polo Day India has been a key institution in the city since 2008, in which Royal Salute has been a part of for the past six years, hosting exclusive experiences in between games and galas.

It’s a fitting partnership, as guests get to warm up with glasses of whisky, poured from the iconic Royal Salute porcelain flagons, which typically is glazed in various tints of blue. The handcrafted sapphire bottles are seen at almost every event during the three-day polo-party gathering of dignitaries and dukes in India’s famous “Blue City”, including Royal Salute’s one-of-a-kind Olfactory Studio experience with Barnabé Fillion.

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“The Best Things in Life are Blended”

As the dozen of guests find their seats at a table set in a marbled dining pavilion on the garden grounds of Umaid Bhawan Palace (where the Maharaja still resides in one wing, while the other half is run by luxury hotelier, Taj Hotels), Fillion begins the tasting by explaining: “Every whisky will be accompanied by a scent with complementing notes, an object that’s related to the experience, a dish, and a tea that’ll round it off. We have all this because the best things in life are blended — the best teas, the best perfumes and yes, even the best kinds of people.”

The flourishing flower arrangements represents the seasons, a passing in phases, critical in making whisky. (Photo: Royal Salute)

Of course, Royal Salute’s appointed creative advisor (a talented mixed bag of a person himself, who started off as a photographer-model and now, famed perfume designer for Aēsop, Comme des Garçons and Paul Smith) is here to venerate the prestige range of blended Scotch whiskies. Many have akin blending whisky to an art form, and for Royal Salute, it’s a time-consuming one as their whiskies feature single malts that have been aged for a minimum of 21 years.

And that’s why, the luxury brand has engaged Fillion to help people understand and appreciate the age-statement drams by way of stimulating all the senses, inspired by nature. From sniffing out harmonious botanical extracts, to feeling up a chunk of two-million-year-old fossil — existence and time seem to be of the essence during this session. Even the flourishing flower arrangement before us represents the seasons, a passing in phases, critical in making whisky.

From sniffing out harmonious botanical extracts, to feeling up a chunk of two-million-year-old fossil — existence and time seem to be of the essence during this session. (Photo: Royal Salute)

Still, the scents, such as cardamom essence and the funky balsamic extract of sea shells, take centre stage and are paired with haute cuisine served in sync by hotel staff alongside five glasses of exquisite single malts, namely Strathclyde, Longmorn, Glen Keith, The Glenlivet Nadurra and Strathisla.

Fillion says: “These are parts of the style in the main chords of Royal Salute. They are cask strength whiskies, which means they are over 50 per cent ABV. Thus, it is recommended that you put a drop of water in them to open up all the aromas.”

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A Sensory Experience

To further open his audience up to a new dimension of awareness, Fillion decided, for the first time, to invite his friend, perfumer and performer Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan, to the table. With a perfect blend of poise and edge, Nandan charms the audience through dance after dance, and adds on top to what Fillion’s been proposing in terms of key notes and visuals to complement the whiskies.

Barnabé Fillion and perfumer and performer Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan.(Photo: Royal Salute)

The India-born, Paris-based architect-by-training says: “The art of mixing resonates with me. It is carried through all Indian art forms — be it perfumery, dance or music. Also, traditionally in this country, even the directions for scenting a woman’s body show the same detailed concern as creating the most sophisticated composition of fragrances, from rubbing perfume separately into each joint using pellets of scented paste to washing the whole body with rosewater. These rituals are almost like choreographed dances, and are all ways of reaching the sublime.”

Of choosing not to stick to just one form of expression, Fillion adds: “For me, the original spirit and how it’s created is very important. Nomadic tribes suddenly became sedentary and had to create a sort of belief for the transition of their relation with nature. That’s how dancing came to be, which celebrates pagan rights: to ask for the rain. Apart from my own creativity, I always think of the beauty of that first dance. It’s not to get drunk or wasted but it’s to celebrate all of nature.

“Likewise, when I’m hosting an olfactory session like this, it is to open you up to the representation of all nature, which is also found in the amazing whisky you are drinking — which is very hard to make. You have to be patient; you have to wait 21 years for the precious liquid to mature in the cask. Then you must find inspiration to create the blend. It’s a lot of effort. So, you don’t drink a good, old whisky to get drunk. The most important thing to do is to feel the energy of time through what you’re drinking — and that can only be met with the stimulation of all the senses.”


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