I ’ve often used cocktails as a means of introducing someone to a whisk(e)y. This has covered those who hesitate towards a whisky as their spirit choice (“anything but not whisky”), or those who are unsure of the specific flavour profile (“I can’t stand a smoky whisky”). The fact of the matter is that to many, starting by sipping the spirit neat is not the best introduction. In fact, often it’s counter-productive. The intricacies of a spirit are often best discovered neat, but as we all know when we add a splash of water, the raw state can also mask nuances. I’ve had cocktails that have showcased hitherto unforeseen aspects of whiskies I’m well acquainted with. A cocktail can mask certain qualities, while showcasing others in a manner that allows a new visitor to discover the qualities at the heart of the base spirit. I’ve won many an ally to peated whiskies from those who have sniffed them and sworn blind they wouldn’t touch them in a million years through careful dosing in a cocktail. The key with a spirit as complex as a malt is care and consideration and thankfully there are many good practitioners out there.
Fittingly, for a showcase on Japanese whiskies this issue, this was precisely how I won new friends to the wonders of Japanese whiskies.
I first began tasting and promoting Japanese whiskies way back in Edinburgh in 2003. I remember being fascinated by their aroma; it was clearly single malt whisky as I knew it, but with an element that made it unique. There was a distinct aroma that I knew would be incredible to explore in a cocktail, but also to explore in terms of my own intrigue of discovering new tastes.
However, the whiskies weren’t so readily received by everyone; even some peers displayed derision and/or hesitation. But it was regular bar patrons that I found most interesting (bear in mind, this was some time ago in Scotland), they were unwilling to accept it as whisky, and very much viewed it as a poorer sibling, or cheap imitation of their proud product. Again, I turned to my trusty method of a mixed drink to change some opinions, and somewhat successfully. Interestingly, many were more willing to see this ‘foreign’ whisky in a cocktail (despite the cost) than the local malts.
Thankfully, they liked the drinks. Crucially, however, they noticed the differences intrinsic to the whisky. This meant they were inclined to try it neat, and soon overcame their stigma. Now, I’m not going to suggest this is by any means the only way to bring people around, and I also did not have a 100 per cent success rate, but it was definitely a positive change, and I truly believe that many were won around because of this method.
Interestingly, I had the opposite experience in Japan. The Mizuwari is ubiquitous (and what I consider a cocktail), and many suggest enjoying a whisky in this style, but when I requested a cocktail made with one of the Japanese malts in many of the cocktail bars, it was greeted with a refusal, whereas they were happy to mix a Scotch single malt (with the notable exception of Ueno San at Bar High Five who made me a truly remarkable Yoichi 15 cocktail). I’m unsure about the reasons behind their disinclination, but I hear there are rifts of change – and of course there was the matter of a 50 Years Old Hi-ball from Suntory.
So I think in effect, it’s worth considering this other aspect of the cocktail role. I for one love whisky cocktails and believe they give more people more opportunities to enjoy this hugely complex category. I’ve had discussions with many who feel that cocktails belong to a camp that encompasses only blends, or only those who don’t quite appreciate the whisky, but thankfully more and more are beginning to realise the role cocktails can play. As mentioned, I’m happy to have made a much larger impact on the world of Japanese whiskies as a result of this.Ryan has been involved heavily in the international cocktail scene for more than 10 years. He helped put bars such as Bramble in Edinburgh and 69 Colebrooke Row and The Whistling Shop in London high up on the world map, and has given extensive seminars on cocktail and drink innovation across the globe. He has accrued several awards both personally including UK bartender of the Year and many others, but also for the bars –including UK’s best bar.
He is also involved in helping both the home bartender and the bar consumer to gain more from their drinks experiences through his work as Mr Lyan. www.facebook.com/MrLyan
- 50ml Hibiki 12
- 20ml fresh lemon juice 15ml Pomegranate syrup (or good quality grenadine)
- 1 fresh egg white
- 2 slices orange bell pepper
Muddle pepper in the bottom of a shaker, add all other ingredients and shake without ice.
Shake hard with cubed ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. GARNISH
A strip of pepper.
- 60ml Miyagikyo 15
- 20ml fresh lemon juice
- 1 fresh egg white
- ½ teaspoon matcha powder
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 20ml sugar syrup
Add all ingredients to a shaker and shake without ice.
Shake hard with cubed ice and double strain over a block of ice in an old-fashioned glass.GARNISH
A sprinkle of matcha powder.
- 40ml Yamazaki 12
- 10ml elderflower cordial
- 60ml cold, strong buckwheat tea
Add all ingredients aside from the soda to a hi-ball filled with cubed ice.
Stir, add more ice and add a splash of soda.GARNISH
A grapefruit zest.