Whisky is an enigma. The guy who isn’t really a team player. The one with loads of personality so you want to include it and yet it is difficult to work with. The trouble with whisky especially scotch is that it just doesn’t play nicely with others.
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s brash and yet it is also lovely. A bit of a conundrum for any mixologist. If you’ve got (or tried offering) whisky cocktails on your menu you’ll often hear people reject the very idea of them as they peruse the menu, saying something like “oh, I don’t like whisky.”
And so I probably serve less whisky based cocktails than any other spirit, even though it’s my personal favourite of the Big 6.
To make matters worse, it’s the wrong colour too (when mixed with many other coloured ingredients – it can come out sludge brown – which is hardly appetising is it?) And yet it has such strong heritage. Even compared with cognac, it has a huge range of flavour profiles from the standard blends such as Famous Grouse and Teachers through to the decidedly peaty Islay malts such as Ardbeg and Laphraoig.
So there are a few tips for scotch whisky based cocktails.
- They can be great used in very small quantities to add another dimension to a cocktail
- Or base your cocktail around unashamed scotch whisky and assume that only scotch drinkers will choose it, i.e. don’t worry about it.
- Add other ingredients to balance it out. Liqueurs, syrups, simple syrup can all be used to offset the fiery quality of scotch and so make your whisky cocktail ‘more accessible.’
Try these in ascending order of complexity
Whisky Mac – which is admittedly hardly a cocktail. Just mix equal measures of your favourite blended scotch with green ginger wine. I slightly prefer Stones, but try Crabbies as an alternative. A little ice by all means, but a little stirring in the glass and that’s about it. No messing about. Embellish it by all means, with orange oil, or a little stem ginger syrup.
Rusty Nail – A classic but simple cocktail. Absolutely bang on for winter too. A warming potion if ever there was one. There are variations in terms of quantities but generally I favour equal measures of scotch and Drambuie. Given that Drambuie is a liqueur, if that is a little too sweet, just up the whisky to Drambuie ratio. Again stirred with a little ice for dilution in an old-fashioned glass is the way to go.
If you find Scotch a bit too spirity, and you prefer your whiskies a bit sweeter, like the corn dominated American bourbon and Canadian rye then these 2 are quite simply brilliant.
Whiskey Sour – is a classic for good reason. A double shot of your chosen bourbon mixed with a shot of lemon juice, a shot of simple (sugar) syrup and 3 dashes of angostura bitters produces a cocktail which is quite simply better than the sum of it’s parts.
Manhattan – is a personal favourite. Again another classic. A double shot of rye whisky (a great everyday choice is Canadian Club rye) or by all means go for an American straight rye if you can find any, mixed with a shot of sweet vermouth and 3 dashes of angostura bitters. Again, simple but effective.
Then if you’re brave and want to try something new and different to what you’ll find in most other places go for the …….
Smoky PX Old fashioned – which is one of my favourite recent discoveries. I first had this at La Perla in Bath and it is stunning. A very full flavour – rich and sweet yet smoky. My version of this features 2 shots of Pedro Ximinez sherry, combined with 1 shot Talisker storm malt whisky, 3 drops of angostura bitters and then topped with orange peel or orange oil. Stirred with ice this is again a lovely, modern, rich cocktail. Recommended, but it’ll never be a mainstream choice. But for those who like it, it’s a belter