As part of a new series, I will be interviewing interesting people in the whisky industry who are doing something that is new, intriguing or challenging to the mainstream whisky environment.
For the first interview, I’ve spoken to Mahesh Patel, founder of one of the world’s most luxurious whisky shows – the Nth Show in Las Vegas, which takes place from the 2-5 April this year.
Also known as the Universal Whisky Experience, the show unashamedly supports the fact the whisky world is full of high-end, luxury whiskies for which there is a big market. Running for the fourth time this year, the show brings some of the world’s most exclusive drams to a select audience, no doubt courting controversy by those who believe whisky prices are becoming unsustainable.
I first met Mahesh in London in November last year. While I feared he may be more of a whisky collector rather than a whisky lover, what struck me most about him was the very obvious fact that he is the latter and, in fact, cares deeply about the entire industry.
As background, Mahesh was born in Uganda but came to the UK in 1973 with his family as a refugee. They were penniless upon arrival, he says, but their background as chartered accountants meant they were able to set up again and start a new life.
Mahesh headed to university to study civil engineering – in which he received an honour’s degree – and went on to get his masters in structural engineering. He worked on rail projects in the UK before an opportunity arose to work with a US company in Atlanta – before the Olympics, when there was a lot of boom in that city – and led to him and his wife leaving for the US, where they have been based since.
So, how does a structural engineer get so into whisky that he decides to start an entire show dedicated to the luxury end of the category?
I spoke with him to find out just that.
Thank you for speaking with me Mahesh. Let’s start at the start, as it were. When did whisky first pull you in?
It was that one little brand called Glenfiddich that was my key exposure. I went to Scotland with my dad and a few friends when I was a teenager, 15 maybe 16, and Glenfiddich did a distillery tour and that really stayed in my mind. I couldn’t drink it then but later on I started drinking it, learned a bit about it and then moved onto other brands like The Glenlivet and Glenmorangie, which helped to get me further into the category.
After graduating university I started traveling a bit and so it was travel retail [duty free] that interested me because they had interesting expressions there.
Since then it has been downhill and I find myself buying and buying. I try to buy two of everything if I can afford it: one is to open and drink and one is to put aside.
That leads me onto the aspect of investing in whisky. What is your opinion of that?
I don’t push the investment side although I know there is an aspect of that if it is really rare. But it is also about sharing. I started getting together with friends across US and Canada a while back and we buy 10 or 12 interesting whiskies and sit down every once in a while to try them all out together. We’ve done the full range of Highland Park single casks produced for different retailers arund the world (a 32 bottle collection) for instance. We went through them one by one over three or four days.
Did this aid in inspiring you to start the Nth Show?
About four or five years ago, I thought the whisky shows were becoming too mundane because they were bringing out things we had all tried. They were becoming more about volume of people coming through. I wanted to launch something on a national basis and that’s why I chose Las Vegas: all our customers that attend that show are from around the world and the focus is on people bringing luxury or unique and rare products. We are also trying to get representation of new craft distilleries that are popping up.
How has the show changed in the past four years?
It’s now about expanding the show stuff and is all done out of a labour of love. In year one we had about 110 people and last year it was up to 280 people at last year. We are hoping to take it to 300 but that’s it; we don’t want it to grow bigger because we want to create a personalised experience.
I haven’t yet make money out of it. I’ve just managed to break even but we’re hoping to. The fact is, I love teaching people about whisky and spreading the word. One way do that at the show is we have a companion ticket which helps get people into the category as well.
And what will be coming next?
We are probably going to plan an international presnce soon, maybe out in Asia. We can’t do three or four in the US because the uniqueness goes away if you do that.
I have also launched my own brand: they’re in the Whisky Shop in the UK and called Sirius Intrepid Whisky. I am a fan of single grain whiskies so as part of my brand I’ve launched black packaging for single malts and white for grain. It is expensive but it’s some very intersting whisky.
You mentioned before that whisky is about sharing and the memories. So what have been some of your favourite moments involving whisky?
Earlier trips to visitng distilleries, those were the best moments. The excitement and buzz you have is so nice and every time I go back I love it. I have visited every distillery in Scotland with the exception of the new ones but I will get to them, and I’ve made a lot friends around the world. Distilleries transport you to a different place. I went back to Glenfiddich when I was back in November and I’ve started taking a lot of new people up with me as it’s great to see the look on their faces when they experience it.
Thank you to Mahesh Patel for agreeing to the interview and providing images for this piece.
For more information on the Nth Show, including exhibitors and prices, head to: http://universalwhiskyexperience.com/