There’s a number of things which happen when you mention Rio to your friends. First, they stop talking to you, then they begin to mutter about “jet-set lifestyle” but as the departure date looms they start to ask if you can fill your suitcase with Havaianas flip-flops.
In my case, they also look at you with a look of mild bemusement as if to say, “but you do whisky, why are you going to drink cachaca?” Well my dear chums, allow me to tell you gently that Brazil is currently Scotch’s fastest-growing export market and is set to become Johnnie Walker’s largest single market. Brazilians may drink a lot of cachaca, but they are also under the spell of Scotch, so going was perfectly sensible.
I was there to observe, it gets better, the grand final of the Diageo World Class bartender competition which is, as far as I can ascertain, the toughest and most prestigious bartender competition in the world. For three days, bartenders were shaking and rolling, stirring and mixing to astoundingly high standards. What was heartening however was the way in which Scotch was beginning to emerge from the back bar and make a presence for itself.
Take your hands away from in front of your eyes
Andy Mil the UK representative (from London Cocktail Club) was sloshing Talisker around with abandon, using its smoke and sweetness as a flavouring agent in many of his drinks.
Kae Yin works at Marsalis in Taipei which is a temple to Scotch and smokes and it showed in his drink during the food matching challenge.
Skye and SeaGlass:
Salmon marinated in Talisker Method:
- 60ml Talisker 10 Years Old
- 15ml Fino sherry infused with salmon and lavender, mixed spice
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- 1 dash Rhubarb bitters
Salmon-infused sherry does, I accept, sound an unlikely ingredient, but the drink had depth, intrigue and respected the flavours of the whisky.
That night I fell into conversation with Monica Berg of Aqua Vitae in Oslo about this glimmering of whisky interest. She’s another convert and told me about her newest example.
- 50 ml Talisker 10 Years Old
- 20 ml fresh lemon
- 10ml Nori/seaweed and sea salt syrup
- 10ml Heather honey
The same experimental edge was being applied to Johnnie Walker Blue. It was paired with Dubonnet, had dashes of absinthe added, mixed with Port Ellen, Grant Marnier and honey; or infused with tea. One look at Guiseppe Santamaria of Barcelona’s Ohla Hotel’s drink and you can see why it would work.
The Gentleman's SecretGlass:
Lavender flower Method:
- Stir and strain
- 40ml Johnnie Walker Blue Label
- 15ml Pear Liqueur
- 12.5ml Pedro Ximenez
- 6 drops Lavender bitters
No you couldn’t make these at home, but that’s the point of bars: to give you something compelling, challenging and tasty which makes you think again about what whisky could be. Take your hands away from in front of your eyes, don’t turn the page.
This is a future.
Bartenders are the arbiters of taste, the generators of trends and whisky, Scotch in particular, has flip-flopped in its relationship with them preferring in general to give top-down instruction about signature serves rather than allowing bartenders free rein.
It comes down to that word ‘permission’ again; permission to add water to whisky, permission to have it with food, permission for women to drink it, permission to mix with it?