Focus On The Whisk(e)y

Jon Hughes plays to the strengths of different styles of spirit
By Christopher Coates
Jon talks to me about developing new cocktails a bit like a blender speaks about creating a new whisky expression. Phrases such as 'building foundations', 'core elements', and 'top notes' crop up regularly, and it's clear that there's no cookie-cutter approach that can be applied.

"One thing you learn to do if you're making mixed drinks with expressive (and expensive) whisky, is to get out of the way," begins Jon. "With something like Ultis, you want to complement the whisky without dominating it. It's a very rounded, relaxed blend, but it doesn't take well to having its toes stepped on too much!"

Conversely, Jon finds that Tincup does play well with others. "It struck me as lively and spicy but also quite light. The flavour was intense but a little short-lived, so I wanted to add a foundation to the cocktail." To achieve this, Jon imparted some low register intensity by using Branca Menta and aromatic chocolate bitters.

When it comes to young grain whisky and cocktails, I've often seen it being used as if it were a neutral spirit - almost a vodka substitute. But Jon was keen to show that grain whisky's delicate profile doesn't mean it has to be lost entirely. "There's a fun fruit characteristic to the Loch Lomond and I wanted to lean into that," he continues. "I resisted the temptation to add in too much in the way of darker flavours as they didn't seem to sit well with the lighter tenor of the spirit." Instead, Jon built upon the Loch Lomond's fruit notes, while the orgeat added a nutty backdrop that helped to integrate the flavours. The result - a cocktail that plays to the grain spirit's strengths, rather than pretending it isn't there.

The cocktails

Black Canyon Old Fashioned


  • 50ml Tincup American Whiskey

  • 5ml Branca Menta

  • 5ml Demerara vanilla syrup

  • 3 drops chocolate bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass over block ice (or cubed ice if no block ice is available).

A twist of orange zest.

The Maid of the Loch


  • 50ml Loch Lomond Single Grain

  • 10ml The Somerset Pomona

  • 15ml orgeat

  • 15ml lemon juice

  • 1 dash orange bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a chilled coupette glass.

A twist of orange zest.

The Willowbrook Cocktail


  • 50ml Chivas Regal Ultis

  • 15ml Noilly Prat Dry vermouth

  • 10ml sirop de citron

  • 1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a small, chilled cocktail glass.

A twist of lemon zest.

The Whiskies


American Whiskey 42% ABV
The brainchild of Jess Graber, of Stranahan's fame, the majority of this spirit has been distilled, matured, and blended at MGP in Indiana. The whiskey is then shipped to a facility in Colorado, where a small volume of Stranahan's single malt is added to the blend, before being cut with Rocky Mountains water.
Price: £32/US$28

Loch Lomond

Single Grain 46% ABV
Unusually, this grain whisky is distilled using a mash of 100 per cent malted barley. But wait. That makes it a single malt, right? Wrong. Because it's distilled on a column still, this Loch Lomond spirit still qualifies as single grain.
Price: £28/US$30

Chivas Regal

Ultis 40% ABV
The first blended malt from Chivas, it was created in honour of their five past blenders and features spirit from five of Pernod's Speyside distilleries.
Price: £164/US$200

Other Ingredients

Noilly Prat Original Dry 18% ABV

A famous vermouth created by blending aged, dry white wines with botanicals including chamomile, gentian and nutmeg.

Sirop de citron

Many varieties of this lemon syrup are available and perhaps the most ubiquitous is Monin Glasco Citron.


Traditionally made with barley water and almonds, this classic syrup is now found as a mixture of rosewater, sugar and almonds - it's a key ingredient in the Mai Tai.

Branca Menta 37% ABV

Branca Menta is the similarly herbal, but more approachable, sister of Fernet-Branca, the famous amaro (bitter herbal liqueur). Branca Menta has a slightly lower ABV than its sibling, more sugar, and an extra infusion of peppermint oil. It has a tendency to dominate, so use sparingly.

The Somerset Pomona 20% ABV

This is a blend of apple juice and Somerset Cider Brandy (not to be confused with French cider brandy) that is matured in oak barrels for two years. Could be described as a cider brandy liqueur.

Demerara vanilla syrup

A simple 1:1 ratio sugar syrup made, you guessed it, with demerara sugar. Add either a couple of drops of vanilla essence (to taste) or one split vanilla bean per cup of sugar during the cooling process. Strain out the solids and you're ready to go.

Peychaud's Bitters 35% ABV

Produced by the Sazerac Company at Buffalo Trace Distillery to an original 18th-century recipe by Antoine Amedie Peychaud – a Creole apothecary who was based in New Orleans. Includes flavours of cherry, clove and nutmeg.