Enjoy whiskey. That was Dave Broom’s message – and happily taken by a crowd that gathered on a rainy Saturday afternoon to try out some whiskies in cocktail from one of the pre-eminent whisky authors.
“Ask questions,” he told us. “Otherwise it’s just one boring, long Scottish rant.” Like that’s a bad thing when it comes to whisky. I showed up for a Scottish rant.
Dave Broom – author of my ultimate whisky guide, The World Atlas of Whisky – was at Char No. 4 to tell us to mix our whisky. You heard that correctly – to put mixers and ice in our whisky.
He said forget the rules. It’s not just for men (yep – got that message!). It’s not just for people of a certain age (around 20 seems a good time to start drinking it…). It’s not just for after dinner (do people eat dinner at noon? Is that supper?) It doesn’t have to be drunken in a tumbler (whew! Because I use jars sometimes). And it can be mixed.
Also, it’s not serious. It should make you smile. Dave put forth the idea that drinking whisky and enjoying whisky are two different things. With his newest book, Whisky: The Manual, he is looking at how to enjoy whisky by mixing it up.
While I generally prefer my whisky straight now, I definitely appreciate a well-made whisky cocktail. I started out in the whisky and coke camp/Jack and ginger crowd. Many good years were spent sipping a simple whisky cocktail and loving life.
And whisky apparently started out as one ingredient of many in the cup. Way back in the day, we are talking 1500’s in Scotland, they made whisky drinks with herbs and spices. And then it was put in punch. In the early 1800’s people in Virginia or the Carolinas woke up with “heart starters” of whisky in the morning with some mint and sugar, similar to today’s julep.
We started out our tasting with a Canadian Club small batch 12. Canadian Club is a single distillery blend with a corn whiskey as the base. It is then mixed with flavoring whiskies, which is the Canadian style. It’s soft and sweet with tinges of spice and oak. For this one we added soda water and ice. Admittedly, this wasn’t my thing. I missed my straight whisky and don’t like how the flavor changes with water. I don’t mind a nice, strong glass of straight whisky pre-dinner or mid-afternoon. I could see on a hot day, though, or maybe at lunch, that whisky could benefit from being lighter.
Dave was laughing that when you go to a bar and order straight whisky, everyone else has these tall drinks with less alcohol while you get a couple of ounces in your glass. Story of my life. But apparently in Japan, where high balls are popular, you can order whisky by the pint. I might go ahead and take it watered down there just to be able to place that order: “A pint of whisky please.”
We went to Four Roses Bourbon single barrel next. I’m already a fan of this one and its apple, licorice, and chocolate notes. It’s soft and gentle and then halfway through, that rye shoots out like a nice chew of spicy sourdough, or as Dave described it “popping candy.” Yummy, spicy, rye-flavored popping candy.
The mixer for this was 2:1 ginger ale. Dave noted that fizzy drinks tell your brain to smile. Whisky and my brain already have a pretty well-worn path to the smile. But this was refreshing and did help the finish last longer.
Which brought us to Hibiki 12. I am a happy, new fan of Japanese whisky, which apparently is not my fault. Dave said nobody outside of Japan got much of it before because they were drinking it all themselves. Fair enough. They also like it throughout the meal and their food is light, so the whisky is light. I wish my brain could put words to flavor the way that Dave Broom’s can. He described it as having intensity, lift, elegance, and apricot with a spicy attack on the finish. Wow, exactly.
And what did we do to this one? Ice and coconut water. Think about it. It’s so wrong but so right. That thing you are supposed to drink after hot yoga can also go in your Japanese whisky. Stay with me – it picks up on the floral characters and fruit but has a nice nuttiness. It’s a lovely, light drink. And coconut water is good for you. Alcohol in moderation is good for you. So, this is healthy. Drink this with a barley and kale lunch, and you just extended your life.
The last one we tried was Cutty Sark, a blended Scotch whisky. Quick historical detour from Dave – Prohibition really helped out Scotch. American whiskey, obviously, was out of the game for a time. Canadian whiskey was pretty much staying in Canada. Some Americans went over to Ireland, newly liberated from England, and inquired whether they would be interested in sending their whiskey to the US. The whiskey could be shipped to the Bahamas or Canada and then…friends…would help it over the border. I don’t know if morality got in the way or what, but Ireland said no.
Scotland, however, had no qualms, and Scotch made it across the border and into our mouths and souls. Cutty Sark was one of those. Cutty Sark has issued a new Prohibition Edition, which is similar to what was being smuggled into the US during the cold, dark, sad days of Prohibition. It’s 100% proof, non chill-filtered, and according to a brand ambassador at the tasting, richer, with more toffee and black pepper notes than the typical lighter version. We tried it with slightly sweetened green tea.
Delicious. Really. It was refreshing. This could be a new morning drink – whisky and caffeine.
Not everything apparently mixes well. Dave said Highland Park is best left on its own. But Lagavulin? “Try it with coke,” he said.
A little piece of my whisky heart gasped. But you know what? Why not? It’s just a drink, after all, and if it results in a smile and another sip, then that’s the point anyway.