The Softer Side of Whisky

Let the grain take the strain
By Charles Montanaro
Originally used for blended whisky, grain whisky has been long ignored until recently when Compass Box, an English company founded in 2000, released their first blend. Their product, a blended grain whisky named Hedonism, was a game changer in the grain whisky world and was received with great enthusiasm. Ever since, distilleries realised the potential of well-crafted grain whiskies and we are now seeing a rise in quality on the market.

Contrary to the norm, grain whiskies are usually distilled in column stills, imparting softer notes, often floral and fruity with a touch more sweetness than their cousins. The different distillation process and the addition of grains offer a unique identity to the liquid, one with a quiet yet strong character.

It is a pleasure to work with, due to its malleability and the wide range of tastes each distillery can offer. The following three grain whiskies are by far my favourite products to pair in cocktails.

First up is Nikka Coffey Grain Malt, a single grain whisky released last year. The corn and barley mash is nothing like a 'Japanese Bourbon'. Using their Coffey still, an ancient machine preceding continuous column stills, allows flavour unlike that which a pot still or even a column still could offer. To showcase this surprisingly smooth liquid, I made a twist on the Delicious Sour, taken from the book The Flowing Bowl by William Schmidt. The combination of cinnamon, honey and spice tree from the Nikka Coffey Grain is the perfect pairing with Calvados. The final addition of peach and the soft velour of egg white adds a touch of fruitiness and a voluptuous mouthfeel.

Moving on, we're looking at another brand new product, The Girvan Patent Still No.4 Apps which William Grant & Sons released in 2013. No.4 brings something else to the table, a 100 per cent American oak aged grain whisky distilled under vacuum allowing a low temperature distillation. The hints of vanilla, crisp green fruits and background of fresh tree blossom from the whisky is paired with a jasmine oleo saccarrum and softened with fresh pineapple. To finish the drink and bring an element of surprise, we drop a few dashes of strong bird's eye chili which is sure to catch any seasoned drinker off guard! I give you, the Bloom-in Hell.

Last but not least, my favourite grain whisky, Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey, released in 2013 and aged in Californian Cabernet Sauvignon casks. Inspired by the Remember the Maine cocktail, I decided to make a Cabernet Sauvignon reduction to liven up the innate sweetness of the corn whiskey. The deep tannins flow with the buttery sweet liquid while the vermouth and absinthe add depth and dryness to the drink complementing the cranberry and herbal tones of the whiskey. The result is a soft and sweet full bodied cocktail with a peculiar dry finish which will please any serious whisky drinker, Forget it Not.

The cocktails

Delicious Sour



  • 25ml Nikka Coffey Grain

  • 25ml Calvados Dupont Hors D’Âge

  • 15ml peach liqueur

  • 25ml lemon

  • 10ml sugar syrup

  • 1 egg white

Combine all ingredients in shaker, shake without ice for 20 seconds until the egg is emulsified. Add ice to shaker, shake hard and double strain over a chilled rocks glass full of ice.

Orange twist.

The Bloomin-Hell



  • 50ml The Girvan Patent Still No.4

  • 40ml freshly pressed pineapple juice

  • 20ml jasmine oleo saccarum

  • 3 drops bird’s eye chilli tincture

Add all ingredients to shaker, shake hard with ice, double strain over cubed ice and garnish with a mint sprig and dehydrated orange peel.

Mint sprig and dehydrated orange peel.

Jasmine oleo saccarum

Add 300g of sugar to a container, peel 6 limes and add the peel to the container, add 4tbsp of jasmine green tea and let rest for a couple of hours. Juice the limes and add to the container, stir to combine and leave to rest in a fridge overnight.

Forget it Not



  • 40ml Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

  • 20ml Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino

  • 10ml Cabernet Sauvignon reduction

  • 2 drops Angostura bitters

  • Absinthe rinse coupette

Add all ingredients to shaker, ice and shake. Double strain in a coupette glass and garnish.


Cabernet Sauvignon reduction

In a pan on low heat, add 375ml of Cabernet Sauvignon and 200g of caster sugar and simmer for ten minutes until the wine has become a thick syrup.