Intermission: On Whisky Cocktails

Scotch continues to be the drink of choice here, but there’s no denying that occasionally I make some room for a cocktail. Whether as an aperitif before a meal or a sip on my porch during a warm day – there’s something about a cocktail that can be forgiven. If you are a technical person [as I am], you will notice that I wrote the “whisky” without an ‘e’. That’s right – I’m talking about making cocktails with whisky, not bourbon. But is there such a thing, and what is the outcome? You can hop on along for a ride, but of course, we need some fun music. Now playing: John TejadaSleepwalker.

A quick definition of a cocktail first. I’m sure you all know what it is. But did you know that it must have specific ingredients, otherwise, it cannot be a cocktail? That’s right. It must have a spirit (or two), sugar, water (or ice), and bitters. If it’s missing one of these, it is not a cocktail. For example, a distilled spirit with a mixer, soda or fruit juice is a highball, not a cocktail. The first and most obvious choice for a cocktail is an Old Fashioned. Let’s run down the essential ingredients. We’ve got the muddled sugar with bitters and water, and whiskey poured over a nice chunk of ice. This is then garnished with an orange slice or zest. The whiskey, of course, here is bourbon or rye. But what happens if we put in some Scotch instead? Well, some call it simply the Whisky Old Fashioned. And then, if you put in a peaty whisky, it is known as an Islay Old Fashioned. I’ve tried it with Ardbeg 10, Lagavulin 16, and Amrut Peated, and I must say that the sweetness and smoke play so well with each other! Generally, I would advise you don’t put in your absolutely favourite, and most expensive, single malt. A Caol Ila or a Monkey Shoulder [created for mixing] would do just as well, but don’t be afraid to experiment! Remember – the quality of ingredients matters! That Lagavulin I had in my cocktail was tasty indeed!

With the arrival of sweet vermouth in New York [in the mid-1870s], the cocktail took on the name of a Manhattan. The sugar here is courtesy of vermouth – an aromatised fortified wine. The orange is replaced with a maraschino cherry, and bourbon may be substituted with a Tennessee whisky, Canadian blends, or rye. And if the sweetness of an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan is too much for you, you can instead use dry vermouth. With equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, the cocktail takes on a name of a Perfect Manhattan, and with fully dry vermouth and a twist of citrus, you will get a Dry Manhattan. But replace the whiskey with a Scotch, and now you have a Rob Roy! This one was created in 1894 by a bartender in Waldorf Astoria (and named after a premiere of Rob Roy operetta). My favourite, as you may have already guessed, is a Dry Rob Roy made with a peaty single malt, but I’m planning on finishing off my Johnnie Walker Black bottle in a Perfect Rob Roy soon, with the sweetness covering up a bit of that grain harshness in the blended whisky.

Finally, we arrive at a cocktail which was invented by Brian Silva at Rules – the oldest restaurant in London, and which I have experienced on more than one occasion already [and plan on making very soon]. It’s called the Islay Maiden. It starts off with 35ml of Caol Ila Moch and 15ml of Martini Extra Dry Vermouth, and then, instead of sweet vermouth, he uses Southern Comfort Black [yes, a whiskey liquer] as a sweet element of the cocktail. He then adds a squeeze of fresh orange, stirs well, serves it on the rocks or neat, and garnishes with a peel of lemon. It’s a smokey, not overly sweet, zesty cocktail that hits the spot before a meal! I think I’ll call this one a winner, as a custom.

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