Category Archives: Scotch whisky

Blackthorn

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Ages ago I was given a neat little dark-blue tome called The Architecture of the Cocktail, which I snobbishly dismissed as a little more than a gimmick; the book’s illustrations are designed to look like blueprints, lending it a serious, mathematical vibe; there’s no warm, inviting photos; and at first glance it looks like one of those smugly superior books that’s mighty clever but irritating to follow.

I shelved it and thought I would never use it.

How wrong I was.

This has become one of my favourite cocktail books for precisely the reasons I initially disliked it. The recipes are easy to follow; the lack of photos means it hasn’t dated badly (the Savoy Cocktail Book doesn’t have photos, either); and the concise preamble to each cocktail is a joy to read.

In other words, it’s small, but it packs a punch. Just like the Blackthorn.

The Blackthorn takes the absinthe rinse of a Sazerac, marries it with the balanced, simple nature of a Manhattan, and then plays havoc with genetics, swapping the Manhattan’s rye whiskey for Irish and its sweet vermouth for dry. I don’t know if that makes it a lovechild or a bastard cousin of the aforementioned classic cocktails, but I figure it gives me a bit of leeway with it – at least, that’s my excuse for switching Irish whiskey for Scotch, and using the wrong glassware to boot.

No matter if you follow the original recipe or my off-plan one, if you like Sazeracs and Manhattans, you will love this strong, slightly bitter, anise-laced drink.

INGREDIENTS

2 dashes absinthe (I figured this meant half a teaspoon, but I’m sure some people would use less)

45ml Irish whiskey (I used Scotch and it still tasted good, but I’m keen to try it with Irish next time)

30ml dry vermouth

2 dashes Angostura bitters

lemon peel, to garnish

GLASS

Cocktail glass, chilled (I used a chilled tumbler)

METHOD

Pour the absinthe into the glass and swirl it about gently so the absinthe coats the glass. Tip out any excess.

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the whiskey, vermouth and Angostura and stir well to combine. Strain into the glass. Gently peel a long piece of lemon peel (avoiding the pith) over the glass and drop it in to garnish.

RECIPE BY

I butchered this recipe, and it still worked. So here’s cheers to the original recipe, which appears in The Architecture of the Cocktail by Amy Zavatto (Harper Collins, 2013).

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Whisky Sour

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For years I’ve been making whisky sours ‘the wrong way,’ using a bastardised version of a recipe from Shaken: 250 Very Sexy Cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004) and not really caring because the people who matter most (ie my drinking buddies) love it. For the record, the recipe in the book is:

INGREDIENTS

45ml rye whiskey

15ml Cointreau

15ml lemon juice

15ml sugar syrup

maraschino cherry

GLASS

Tumbler

METHOD

Shake all ingredients (except the cherry) in a cocktail shaker that’s half-full of ice. Strain into the glass and garnish with the cherry.

I’ve always omitted the cherry (it’s odd how as soon as I buy a jar they, er, disappear) and used bourbon instead of rye, for reasons that are lost to the mists of time but basically involve a combination of ignorance (‘Is rye whiskey the same thing as bourbon?’) and convenience (‘I don’t know but we have bourbon so let’s use that instead’) that, fortunately, had a good result (‘Oh, this? This is a house whisky sour. You can only get this at 52 Cocktails HQ…largely because no-one with half a brain would ever confuse rye and bourbon.’*). It’s a jelly-bean-sweet concoction that bourbon-lovers love, even if it is a bit unorthodox. I’ve been making it for so long now that it deserves its own name – Bourbon Sour would be the logical choice, especially now that I’ve finally got around to making an actual whisky sour with actual whisky. Logic would dictate that to do so, I’d simply use the recipe above, but hey, logic has never been my strong point – especially after a few Bourbon Sours. And so I used a recipe from a Dan Murphy’s** catalogue to make my first Whisky Sour using, well, whisky. As you’ll see, the recipe is quite different to what I usually make – here it is.

WHISKY SOUR

INGREDIENTS

60ml whisky (I used Johnnie Walker red label)

15ml sugar syrup

25ml lemon juice

20ml egg white

maraschino cherry, to garnish

GLASS

Old-fashioned/tumbler

METHOD

Add all ingredients except the cherry to a shaker, and shake until the egg white is frothy. (This is often called ‘dry-shaking’ because, unlike most cocktail recipes, it does not involve ice. Not yet, anyway. Dry-shaking helps the egg white to go frothy. But how does the drink end up cold, you ask – read on.) Add a good scoop of ice and shake well. Strain into a glass that’s half-full of ice, garnish with the cherry and serve.

THE VERDICT

This is completely different to the Whisky – OK, Bourbon – Sour that I usually make. It’s light and fluffy, nowhere near as sweet and, curiously, lacks the punch of flavour I’m used to. It’s still a damn good drink, though, with a cloud-like texture that makes it more of a dessert cocktail than a pre-dinner drink.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…

Naturally I couldn’t help but make this cocktail with bourbon instead of whisky, just to see what would happen. And what happened was, I ended up drinking two cocktails that were pretty good, all the while thinking how much I preferred a good old House Bourbon Sour. Lesson learnt: when in doubt, er… make lots of cocktails.

*Don’t fret – this was a long time ago and I have since learnt the error of my ways. If you’re not sure what’s what, there’s a good article here that explains the difference between scotch, whisk(e)y, bourbon and rye.

**Dan Murphy’s is an Australian chain of alcohol stores, aka my second home.

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The Interchange

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‘You’ve just been poisoned’ might well be the best tagline I’ve ever seen on a cocktail bar’s website, and it belongs to Bangkok’s Sugar Ray. I stumbled across it after reading about the bar in Lonely Planet’s Bangkok guidebook, which describes it as the kind of funky, hidden place that makes Old Fashioneds with aged rum, cardamom syrup and orange (you can read the full review here). Naturally this got me thinking two things:

1) I really, REALLY want to go to that bar (and a bunch of other Bangkok hotspots too!), and

2) Could I create something similar?

And so the experimenting began. Ages ago I made some cardamom-infused vodka by crushing 3 cardamom pods and leaving them in about half a cup of vodka for a few days before straining them out. I had some Angostura Orange Bitters. I figured those two ingredients would provide the necessary flavours even if they weren’t in syrup form. I didn’t have any aged rum but I did have some good old Johnnie Walker Red, which is the whisky I always use in Old Fashioneds because it’s relatively cheap and so am I, and so all I had to do was add the cardamom vodka and orange bitters to my normal Old Fashioned recipe and I’d be onto a surefire hit, right?

Here is the bit where, ordinarily, something goes horrifically wrong. Something spontaneously combusts, or my eyebrows catch on fire, or – worse still – I end up with something completely undrinkable. I am used to this. Hell, I was prepared for it. So I was almost disappointed when…nothing happened. And my taste testers agreed I’d made something sophisticated ‘that you’d get in a real bar’.

I tried again, this time using rye whisky, and got an even better result: the kind of cocktail that would be at home in a gentleman’s club, smooth, deep and full of intriguing flavours that border on the exotic.

All that was left to do was think of a name. Even that was easy; I’d used rye and whisky interchangeably, and thus The Interchange was born. As far as creating my own cocktails goes, I’d say this is one of the most successful – indeed, no one got poisoned…

INGREDIENTS

60ml rye or regular whisky

15ml sugar syrup

10-15ml cardamom vodka (you can use more or less to taste)

3-6 dashes orange bitters

GLASS

Old-fashioned

METHOD

Quarter-fill an old-fashioned glass with ice. Add half the whisky and stir until the glass is frosty. Add a few more ice cubes and the remaining ingredients and stir  until the glass is frosty again.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

So easy you’ll think something’s gone terribly, terribly wrong.

RECIPE BY

This one’s by the 52 Cocktails crew, with thanks to Sugar Ray and Lonely Planet for the inspiration.

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The Godfather

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You’d think a cocktail involving only two ingredients would be straightforward but the Godfather has me more confused than an illiterate person trying to alphabetise a packet of M&Ms. According to several recipes I’ve read, a Godfather is simply Scotch whisky and Amaretto, poured over ice in an old-fashioned glass and stirred gently. Easy, yes? Yes. Which is why I tried it when I wanted a whisky-based cocktail that didn’t involve too much effort.

One recipe’s intro warned me that it was ‘supremely powerful’ and ‘demanded respect’ but what I tasted was rather lacklustre. I could barely taste the Amaretto (it was present only as a faint aftertaste) and the whisky tasted watered-down. Which led me to realise the intro was probably referring to the movie The Godfather, not the drink. I’ve never seen The Godfather but I understand it involves some Italians, some violence and a horse’s head. I guess the link with the drink is the Amaretto, an Italian liqueur, because as far as I can tell the drink is 100% horse-free – no foal play involved.

Apparently the Scots did not invent whisky – you can thank the Irish for that – and yet you can order a Scotch on the rocks but not an Irish on the rocks, which seems rather unfair.

Amaretto tastes of almonds despite being made from apricot pits.

And so The Godfather ends up being a drink that tastes of a whisky you can ask for using its generic regional name despite it not being the original version, with a little hint of an apricot-pit liqueur that tastes like marzipan. Confused yet? And to make things worse, it’s not even that good. If this is what they were drinking in The Godfather I’m not surprised they ended up shooting everyone on sight.

Maybe if I’d used a different/smokier whisky it would have been more impressive (I used Johnnie Walker because I don’t feel guilty using it in mixed drink, especially when I’m just experimenting). Maybe if I’d shaken the drink over ice and strained it into a glass, it wouldn’t taste so watered down. Maybe if I added lime…

So I added some lime juice, bunged the whole lot into a shaker and gave it good hard shake before straining it back into the glass. The result was a cross between wedding cake icing and toilet puck (too much lime?). Oh well, at least I’d learnt a few things: (a) shaking up this mixture ‘wakes up’ the Amaretto and brings its flavour forward, and (b) never f*ck with the Godfather.

GODFATHER 

INGREDIENTS

45ml Scotch whisky

15ml Amaretto

GLASS

Old-fashioned

METHOD

Half-fill the glass with ice. Add the whisky and Amaretto and stir gently.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

Much easier than waking up with a horse’s head in the bed.

RECIPE BY

This version appears in Shaken: 250 Very Sexy Cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004). Other versions use equal parts Amaretto and whisky.

VARIATIONS

1) If you’d like to test my theory that shaking this drink makes the Amaretto more noticeable:

Half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the whisky and Amaretto, shake and strain into a chilled tumbler.

2) If you want to know what a cross between toilet puck and marzipan tastes like (who doesn’t?):

Half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the whisky, Amaretto and 15ml lime juice, shake and strain into a chilled tumbler.

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