Meet Mahesh Patel – whisky lover and construction tycoonBy Dominic Roskrow
You might expect someone who buys a £100,000 bottle of whisky, puts on elite dinners for $350 a pop, and unapologetically targets his Las Vegas whisky show at a very select number of people who can afford super premium whiskies to be snooty, superior and arrogant.
Not a bit of it. When I meet building tycoon and whisky enthusiast Mahesh Patel and his wife he is affable, chatty, and keen to head off to a pub for a lunchtime pint of bitter and a chat. And he’s quick to dispel any suggestion that he is damaging the perception of whisky by drawing attention to the elitist end of the market, fueling the view that whisky is not for normal people.
“The truth is that there are people who are interested in these sort of whiskies and they have the money to pay for them,” he says. “But I collect whisky and I drink whisky, and I have no preconceptions about it based on cost. There are whiskies that I enjoy at all price points and I make a judgement purely on taste. I taste new whiskies blind.
“My wife and I might have a good life now but we remember here we come from. We both came to England in the 60s as refugees with absolutely nothing. We have never forgotten that.”
Patel’s story has a direct resonance for me. In the 1960s my home city of Leicester took in Asian refugees from Uganda, where they had been forced to flee from the tyranny of Idi Amin. I’m extremely proud of that fact and the fact that today Leicester is a mostly tolerant and integrated multi-cultural city. But I’d be a liar if I pretended that middle class white families from Oadby had lots of Asian friends. We lived segregated lives. But the Asian community has excelled and a generation on I was amazed to return to Oadby to find that the majority of the residents are successful middle class Britons of Indian descent.
“it was very hard for us and we worked hard to survive,” says Patel. “Education was extremely important to us. And now my brothers are doctors and opticians.”
Patel worked in the construction industry in Loughborough, Leicestershire, then moved to Birmingham and Croydon, was educated in Brighton and emigrate to the United States some years back because of his work.
His love of whisky evolved naturally but rapidly. Although he is known for his huge collection and particularly the top end purchases such as the £100,000 Dalmore Trinitas, he maintains he has as many bottles open as he has in his collection.
And although he has invested in a premium whisky show which lost money in its first year and has spent large amounts on individual bottles of whisky, he maintains that his first driving force in whisky is love, not money.
“I want to play a part in bringing exciting whisky to people, whatever the level,” he says. “The show in March 2012 may well lose money again but you expect that and you have to think longer term. I’m committed to my business The Universal Whisky Experience and Sirius.”
Patel is a busy man, still running a construction business in tough economic climes. And whisky has to share billing with his other love – The Atlanta Falcons American Football team.
“We are season ticket holders and go to all the games. Now that’s a great day out. Because we’re season ticket holders we get the best parking spaces and we tailgate, which means we go down hours before a game, open up the back of the truck and throw a party. We take turns at cooking but I’ll probably end up doing most of it because I love cooking and I do all sorts of Indian dishes. I’ll marinade for days in preparation. It’s a lot of fun.”
Down to earth, good company, but deadly serious about whisky – Mahesh Patel is a force for good in the world of spirits. Expect to hear a lot more about him.