Something a Little Different

Experimental casks and unconventional cocktails
By Ryan Chetiyawardana
For a long time now there's been a debate as to the merits of 'alternative' casks being used for the maturation of whisky. Some are wholly aged in a cask that has previously held a different product, and some are 'finished' for a period of time. We're even seeing 'virgin' casks being used for the maturation of Scotch.

Many have been cynical as to the practice seeing it as a means of covering up (or tarting up) poor whiskies, or creating a transparent hook with which to attract new audiences. I'm of the belief that innovation is hugely important for the industry, and whilst I think there has been questionable motives, and the occasional shocker of a bottling, the practice has its merits.

Of course, with any bottling - aside from a single cask release - there is a parallel to cocktail making; the master blender selects a series of casks and then blends them to create a harmonious whole. It takes skill and experience to balance all the nuances, and a tremendous amount to ensure consistency, but new types of cask allow a new colour to enter this palate.

I think a lot of this is still being learnt by the industry. New innovations, new products and new links between producers means that there are a great many of these different casks available to a distiller or blender. Much of this might be new and undocumented by traditional practice, meaning there is little frame of reference with which to create these new products, and an unknown from the consumer side in terms of what might be well received. Coupled with this is the time it takes to make good whisky.

Sure, this means that some have taken shortcuts, and this is apparent in immature whiskies overlaid with heavy oak, but there are also some very interesting notes that begin to tease out different characters from the make. This can be very interesting once used in a cocktail. Sometimes there are different sides to a familiar whisky that can be played upon to make a very different style of whisky cocktail.

Other times these 'experimental drams' can add a new dimension to a familiar serve. One of the reasons I believe some of these whiskies have been met with hesitation is that drinkers have been unsure as to how to assess them. They certainly sit very differently from other whiskies. Not that they can't be great drams on their own, I feel some of these drams from experimental casks lend themselves particularly well to being mixed. It is when you start to draw out the distillery character from beneath other layers of different wood notes that they become very interesting.

These 'different' wood notes can also be an excellent starting point for a drink. With the New York Sour, I've played upon the berry notes found in Longrow Red. Usually finished with a claret snap, I've mimicked the red fruit spice that comes through from the Cabernet Sauvignon casks by using a float of a similar spicy red wine. This drink works wonderfully with an unfinished Longrow, but I find the extra notes that occur in the red work perfectly - a nice warmth of smoke, some citrus and a richer, autumnal overlay. In my twist on an Old Fashioned, I've used the oxidised, raisin sweetness of Auchentoshan 3 Wood.

Sherry of course is quite a traditional dimension for Scotch, but the combination of the three casks, coupled with the Lowland dram's trademark lightness creates a wonderful contrast. I simply looked to bolster the sherry richness, complimented by a little spice and lift with a touch of citrus oil. The final cocktail uses a particularly unusual combination; a single cask grain whisky from a virgin cask bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. A nice whack of spice, some light creamy grain and an extra bit of proof. Again, the extra alcohol allows the drink to open out over time, showcasing the fruits and cereal notes teased out by the virgin oak.

The cocktails

Campbeltown Sour


  • 50ml Longrow red

  • 20ml lemon juice

  • 20ml sugar syrup

  • 2 dashes orange bitters

  • Float 20ml Cabernet Sauvignon

Shake all ingredients aside from the wine and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass, or over ice. Carefully pour red wine over the top of the cocktail.

3 Wood Old Fashioned


  • 50ml Auchentoshan 3 wood

  • 10ml sherry reduction

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with ice

Garnish with a flamed piece of orange zest.

Tea and Toast


  • 60ml SMWS G5.4 – Toasted cask grain whisky

  • 20ml coconut sugar *

Build over ice.
* Stir 100ml of coconut water with one tea bag lapsang souchong and a tablespoon of white sugar.

A slice of banana.