Lighten up (Barbecues)

Whisky can be a great summer drink – and it can work well with the barbecue. Dominic Roskrow gets the big recipe book out
By Dominic Roskrow
It’s a commonly held view that whisky isn’t a summer drink. But whenever someone says this to me I think back to my very first day as Editor of Whisky Magazine and a television interview Michael Jackson gave to a German film crew shortly before a whisky and cheese tasting.

Inevitably he was asked what his favourite whisky was. His answer – and I crudely paraphrase, so sorry Michael – was that it depended on the occasion. If the drink was offered while on a windy day on a hill on Islay, then an Ardbeg or Laphroaig would suit, perhaps. But if in the company of Jimmy Russell at the end of a hot and steamy day in Kentucky, then a Wild Turkey 101 would fit the bill.

Drinks tend to suit the environment they were invented in, and in Kentucky that means bourbon. Indeed, the thought of drinking anything else as you puff on a cigar while in the company of Bardstown’s great and good during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival seems almost disloyal.

And true, most of us aren’t in Kentucky much or any of the time. But when the sun’s shining there are plenty of options when it comes to whisk(e)y. Specially if on those days you’ve decided to fire up the barbecue and are looking for something special to set the evening alight. Let’s leave aside whisky cocktails for the moment – these have been dealt with extensively in this magazine in recent issues. And let’s turn our attention to al fresco cooking with a suitably robust drink to match.

Let’s get one important issue out of the way at the outset. If you’re reading this in the United Kingdom and your idea of a barbecue is a portable gas oven and a pile of supermarket burgers and sausages, you’ve missed the point. Your efforts are to proper barbecue cooking what the modern day caravan is to camping; an anaemic, pallid flirtation with the real thing.

Barbecue cooking needs to be done on real charcoal fire, and must require a bit of sweat and effort. It’s a cooking style perfected in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, where men eat logs for energy and where the barbecue itself is the rallying point for men increasingly alienated from their hunter-gatherer roots by the closure of traditional pubs and clubs; it is the last stand for the male who wants to consume alcohol and talk sport. Sexist? Maybe. But in the enlightened New Zealand company I used to keep women were welcome to join us as long as they talked All Blacks and America’s Cup sailing.

Rough and ready the cooking equipment may be (although considerably more advanced than the Maori hangi, which effectively consists of building a fire in the ground and burying the food wrapped in leaves to cook underground for several hours) but the barbecue meal is something else again. In countries serious about barbecuing marinating starts hours and even days before, and will involve all sorts of styles of food. So here are a few recipe ideas featuring Irish and Scottish whisky, and bourbon. For dessert go for the chilled Dalwhinnie with ice cream and a hot chocolate sauce – easy and very effective.

Kentucky chicken wings


  • 24 chicken wings

  • 5 tablespoons bourbon

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon of finely grated lemon rind

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • 1 cup of fine dry seasoned breadcrumbs

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the wings at the points and discard the tips. Mix with bourbon, olive oil, lemon rind and juice, making sure that the wings are covered. Marinade for at least four hours but ideally overnight.
2. Mix the breadcrumbs, paprika, salt and pepper in a plastic bag and cover the wings.
3. Barbecue.

Marinating sauce

You can buy ready-made barbecue sauce with bourbon in it from most of the major bourbon producers, many with gimmicky names such as ‘Too Friggin’ Hot.’ These tend to be very good and it’s worth seeking out the very hottest you can get, because they impart significant but not over-bearing taste to your meat if you marinate overnight. Pork steaks are particularly good done like this. An alternative is to buy a sour chilli sauce or a something like peri-peri and add in your own bourbon to give it a sweeter, more rounded marinating flavour. Best of all, make your own. The recipe below has been adapted from a few different ones so feel free to tweak it as you want to include more citrus
juice/garlic/bourbon or chilli


  • 6 tablespoons of butter

  • 6 tablespoons of olive oil

  • 2 cups of chopped onion

  • 1 cup of bourbon (the spicier, the better –Woodford Reserve is great)

  • 1.5 cups of ketchup

  • 1 cup of cider vinegar

  • 1 cup of orange juice

  • 1 cup of maple syrup

  • 0.5 cups of cane molasses or rough sugar

  • 4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

  • Coarse pepper

  • 0.5 cup lemon juice and/or lime juice

Melt the butter and add onions, and sauté until golden. Mix in the other ingredients and cook slowly on a low temperature for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring often.

To serve
Pour into bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of parsley and a swirl of cream.

Irish lamb balls


  • 1 kg lamb mince

  • Handfuls of fresh mint

  • Packet of mozzarella cheese

  • Irish whiskey

1. Cut the cheese in to small squares.
2. Rip the fresh mint in to small parts and mix thoroughly with the lamb mince and as much as Irish whiskey as you want to. Mould the lamb, mint and whiskey mix round the cheese
3. Cook on a hot barbecue. The fats of the mince should seal the meat balls. Serve when the melted cheese starts oozing from the meat ball.

Tasty fish parcels


  • 1 piece of fresh white fish per person

  • 1 Orange

  • 1 Lemon

  • 1 Lime

  • Enough unpeated whisky to marinade the fish in

  • Pepper

  • Olive oil

1. Cut the fruit in half. With one half of each fruit, cut in to slices. Place one slice of each on to each piece of fish, fold the fish and tie down with a couple of pieces of thread. With the other half, squeeze the juices from the fruit and mix
2. Soak overnight in whisky and the fruit juices.
3. Shortly before cooking remove from the whisky, cover in olive oil and cover generously with pepper.
4. Cook on the barbecue wrapped in foil, adding the remains of the whisky and fruit juice to the mix if you so want