Eastern Promise

Our man behind the stick looks for inspiration in Asia
By Ryan Chetiyawardana
A lot had been discussed about the new, and not so new, wave of whiskies coming out of Asia. Japan has for many a year been upsetting the Scotch purists and it's now seldom stated that it is not a premier whisky producing nation, but many of the other whiskies coming from the region are winning fans.

With this, many other Asian countries are missing the derision often previously associated with malt spirits produced outside of Scotland, the US and Ireland. To a large degree, whiskies from Taiwan, India and the like are readily appreciated without prejudice within the whisky world, and even within the general whisky consumer.

But what about mixing? I've covered before how Japanese and world whiskies lend a unique profile to mixed drinks, and how they can be a segue into using malts in cocktails, but there is something fascinating about the use of quality whisky in mixed drinks in Japan and Asia.

The first up is the wonderful hi-ball. Not only does this have amazing historical precedent, and is a key player in the history of whisky consumption, but is one of the simplest, and tastiest drinks to boot. Perfection in a glass; a great whisky opened out by minerals, water and ice: no simpler and more elegant way to demonstrate the beautiful nuances of whisky and the masterful control of a master blender. Needless to say though, it's a terrible concoction in the wrong hands. A watery mess of hooch and a lukewarm serve of limp malt. It's attention to the details that has elevated Japanese and Asian bartending to the point of fetish.

The dedication to these simple serves, whisky and soda, or a Mizuwari served long with water, is testimony to the respect for a fine dram. It also reflects the range and diversity available in our fine spirit. A sea change of drinking could be established with the adoption of a proper whisky hi-ball serve. Not only does it show that a quality whisky can be mixed while still retaining its credence, but it shows how whisky can be also enjoyed in a variety of manners, with different moods and objectives in mind. Of course, blends often feature as a base spirit in many of these serves, but many bartenders are also experimenting with using their finer malts too. With the rise of the appreciation for Asian whiskies, the bartenders in these countries are looking to showcase the unique characteristics that are available to them that mirror the image, and often the flavours from their vicinities. Many ingredients paint a picture of a country. Sometimes this is a little contrived - there are often too many Scotch whisky serves that focus on using flavours such as marmalade, heather honey or even just adding more sherry to a sherried dram - but sometimes an ingredient does transport you to a place. This I found particularly the case in Asia with the fruits that had such a connection with their locality. However, it can also be a key note in the local spirits - even though this might well be projected and imagined!

An example is yuzu. Typically only found in Japan, the fruit is a hybrid that fits between a lemon and a grapefruit. Used in a cocktail though, it forms a lovely sharpness to the exotic spices often found in Japanese whiskies. Not only do the flavours match together, the occurrence of the fruit instantly transports your mind towards Japan, projecting perception of their local flavours onto the whisky. A chance to be whisked away by associated flavours. It need not actually be an ingredient from the whisky's home, it might simply be something that reminds you of an experience; eating langoustine will forever be tied to Bowmore to me, and a fine sencha will always carry me to the beautiful surrounds of Yamazaki, but similarly a wonderful meal accompanied by a bottle of Amrut constantly wants to see me pair mango with a dram of it.

The cocktails

Yuzu Fizz


  • 50ml Hakushu 12

  • 10ml lemon juice

  • 10ml grapefruit juice

  • 10ml yuzu seasoning

  • 15ml honey water

Shake all ingredients, strain over ice in a hi-ball and top with soda.

Kavalan Bubble Tea


  • 60ml Kavalan

  • 50ml strong black tea

  • 50ml milk

  • 20ml pineapple syrup

  • Tapioca pearls soaked in sweet jasmine tea

Add pearls to a hi-ball glass full of ice, shake other ingredients and strain over ice.

Brilliance Sour


  • 50ml Paul John Brilliance

  • 30ml orange juice

  • 10ml lemon juice

  • 1 egg white

  • 5 crushed coriander seeds

  • 15ml jaggery syrup

Shake all ingredients without ice, shake with ice, then double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A leaf of coriander.