Straddling a verdant river valley of northeastern Scotland, Speyside is a region synonymous with exceptional single malt. But as singularly renowned as the scotch is (or perhaps, because of it), the local liquid is hardly ever associated with quality cocktails. It’s an unfortunate oversight. One that modern mixology is working to correct.
“For nearly the entirety of its existence, single malt whisky has been relegated to being enjoyed neat or on the rocks,” explains Erik Delanoy, a New York based barman. “Its use in cocktails was viewed by many purists as taboo or even a bastardization, as they are worried it taints the purity of such a highly revered spirit.”
But one of the main drivers behind a contemporary craft is seeking out flavors and combinations tailored to specific palates. So it was inevitable that bartenders would start catering to those who aren’t afraid to explore the blending potential of robust liquors, such as single malt. The trick is, to find ways in which to magnify and complement its deep complexities, rather than drowning them out in the mix—otherwise, what’s the point?
SINGLE (MALT) AND READY TO MINGLE
Combining scotch and soda has been around for ages, but it’s generally built around a blended whisky, which has an easier, lighter body, thanks to the addition of grain whisky. Single malt, by contrast, is all malted barley, all copper pot distillate. Deep, dark and mysterious—the same elements marking it as so compelling in the dram, befuddle its balance alongside modifiers. Luckily, a good bartender is always up for a challenge.
Erik Delanoy / Photo Credit: Lily Wokin
Delanoy sets the bar high in employing The Macallan as his malt of choice. Throwing the world’s preeminent premium scotch into a shaker is heresy to some, but to Delanoy, the brand’s sherried, dark fruit components are just what the doctor ordered.
“When designing a cocktail, I first think about the base spirit,” he says. “I smell it, taste it and try to experience the full flavor profile before moving forward. An Old Fashioned with The Macallan Double Cask 12 Year, is truly blissful.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
It’s also an approachable combination for the home bartender. “Just make sure not to overdo it, Delanoy warns. “Keep it simple. Less is always more. It’s way easier to add more sugar or bitters than it is to take them out. From there, you can start by changing the sweetener. Instead of a simple syrup, use something with a flavor profile that will complement the whisky —maybe a touch of maple [syrup] to pair with the wood notes from the barrels.”
Speyburn 10 / Photo Credit: Scotch Trooper
To that end, consider the cask in which your scotch rested. The most common casks used, ex-bourbon, sits well against vanilla, cinnamon, and even ginger notes. Speyburn 10 Year and Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve are flexible gems, substituting seamlessly into a Manhattan or Boulevardier variation.
“I think about the style of cocktail that I want to create—citrusy and vibrant or stirred, dark and adventurous,” adds Delanoy. “Striking a balance of the sweet, acidic, bitter and aromatic takes time, practice and experience with all of the tools at your disposal.”
One final caveat: Speyside scotch is one of the more elegant categories of spirit on the planet. So don’t dumb it down with crude sweeteners. “Choose premium modifiers that will be sure to complement the flavors inside the bottle.”
Care to elaborate? Delanoy shares these two examples of Speyside elegance in cocktail form. Forget the stigma and get to stirring!
-2 oz The Macallan Double Cask 12 Year
-.25 oz oloroso sherry
-1 bar spoon maple syrup
-.25 oz Drambuie
-.25 oz Benedictine
-3 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Stirred, served in a large ice cube, garnished with an orange twist.
Cruising Altitude Cocktail / Photo Credit: Erik Delanoy
-2 oz The Macallan 12 Year
-25 oz Creme de Violette
-.25 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
-1 bar spoon citric acid compound*
-2 dashes orange bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice. Serve in a rocks glass with an ice ball. Express orange and lemon oils from peel.
*Citric Acid Compound
Ready to find the perfect single malt for your cocktails?