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The world at our feet

Modern whisky cocktails are impacting across the world. Australian drinks writer Naren Young takes a global view
By Naren Young
It’s quite ironic that even though many of the world’s most famous mixed drinks and cocktails are whisky-based (think Mint Julep, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Rob Roy, among several others), they’re served with alarming irregularity in many corners of the globe. As more consumers jump on the white spirits band wagon, where taste and complexity is sacrificed for the sake of ignorant inebriation, brown spirits such as the whisky family have been somewhat forgotten in recent years.All hope is not lost, however, as a new breed of creative and passionate bartender, coupled with a more educated, savvy and curious consumer, look to whiskies in all their forms for inspiration and enjoyment. Much of this modern imbibing has been under the guise of the modern whisky cocktail, which is shaping the future of the category in many ways.While at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival I shared a few Manhattans with whisky expert, Hall of Fame inductee and all round nice guy Gary Regan and we discussed the current state of play for the whisky categor in general, the new shift in the demographic of drinker and the role that cocktails are likely to play in the future.“In many ways, I believe cocktails are the best way to attract a new generation of whisky drinker,” comments Regan. “Whisky can be a hard spirit for people to get into; they need to acquire a palate for it, so starting them out on whisky cocktails is a fine start. Few people in my generation got into whisky before they were, say, 30.“That’s not the case today. It’s also really important that the bartender knows his products so he can guide customers toward the right whisky to suit their tastes. You’re not going to find it easy to get a vodka drinker to drink, say, Laphroaig, but perhaps a drink made with Dalwhinnie, or another light Scotch, will start to win them over.” Dale De Groff, the self titled ‘King Cocktail’, widely considered to be America’s greatest living bartender, has seen – and been largely responsible – for a more educated and adventurous drinker throughout the United States.His peach smash (bourbon, peach liqueur, fresh peach, mint and sugar) is a sublime take on the classic Mint Julep, while his Apple Manhattan (rye, apple liqueur, apple juice, rosso vermouth and bitters) is a master stroke. Dale has also noticed a new breed of whisky drinker during his travels throughout his homeland and the United Kingdom.“Whisky cocktails are definitely finding favour again with a small group of cocktail ‘geeks’ here in the US and London. This is taking a little longer, however, to filter into the general market.“These modern concoctions have captured the audience at the high end style bars which set the trends for the rest of the market with the bartenders that work there taking whisky cocktails in new directions by using more fruits juices, spices and old fashioned ideas like the Port Whiskey Punch.” Last year’s Class magazine bartender of the year, Jamie Stephenson, creates some of the most inspired whisky cocktails in the United Kingdom but believes the category doesn’t get the air play it deserves.“If you look at any cocktail list recently, the whisky section is always underrepresented.Because many consumers don’t understand whisky cocktails, this leads to bars not giving much thought or space to whisky cocktails. This fails to enlighten the consumer so they’re left thinking that they don’t like whisky cocktails.“It takes a very competent bartender to create cocktails using whisky and in particular matching cocktail styles to appropriate whisky brands.” Stephenson, like many bartenders at the top of their game, have grown tired of using the more neutral and somewhat uninteresting white spirits which pose a much lesser challenge than experimenting with whiskies.“It’s a natural progression to use whiskies in cocktails,” he continues. “Hopefully as the industry improves, we shall see more people using them in a positive way. It takes a lot more skill to mute the sensations people find off-putting about whisky and highlighting the complexities.” His Port Ellen Storm – using the very pungent Lagavulin 16 Year Old – is testament to the man’s talents. Its contents and ratios are designed specifically for the said whisky with the beautiful Lapsang Souchong, smoky characters coming through in a long and thirst quenching libation. As Stephenson aptly points out, “It’s a fantastic introduction to Islay whiskies for those who are more used to the occasional dram of Glenfiddich.” Down here in Australia – where the infatuation is with classic cocktails, often spiked with a modern twist – the mixology movement continues unabated. One of the country’s finest bartenders, Oliver Stuart, working at Sydney hot spot the Victoria Room, is an avid exponent of whisky based drinks who has noticed that more and more women have been more adventurous with their drink choices.“Surprisingly, a lot more women are trying whisky-based drinks, although sometimes it does take a lot of suggestive selling from the bartender to convince them. Whisky cocktails can take a lot of getting used to so I always ask the customer what flavours they like and try to manipulate that into a drink with an appropriate whisky. MODERN WHISKY RECIPESPORT WHISKEY PUNCH
40ml bourbon
20ml fresh lemon juice
25ml simple syrup
50ml fresh orange juice
30ml ruby port
Shake the first four ingredients well with ice and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with ruby port Garnish with orange slice and a lemon wheel. Created by Dale De GroffKENTUCKY COFFEE FRAPPE
50ml bourbon
15ml amaretto
Shot of espresso coffee
30ml cream
10ml simple syrup
1 egg yolk
Shake vigorously and strain over crushed ice into a tumbler Sprinkle with cinnamon. Created by Dale De GroffPORT ELLEN STORM
50ml Lagavulin 16 Year Old
3 dashes orange bitters
15ml orgeat (almond) syrup
20ml lime juice
Ginger beer – to top
Based on Bermuda’s national drink, the Dark and Stormy, shake the first four ingredients and pour into a tall glass filled with cubed ice, top with ginger beer and add a wedge of lime. Created by Jamie StephensonPAT MALONE
50ml Jameson Irish whiskey
10ml Poire William liqueur
20ml cloudy apple juice
10ml lemon juice
10ml elderflower cordial
Fresh nashi pear
Fresh ginger slivers
Muddle pear and ginger
Shake vigorously with remaining ingredients Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass Garnish with a slice of fresh pear. Created by Naren YoungBRITISH RAJ
50ml Glenfiddich
20ml spice syrup
10ml lime juice
Fresh chunks of Nashi pear
Muddle the pear and syrup, shake with remaining ingredients. Double strain over crushed ice, garnish with a slice of fresh pear. Created by Oliver Stuart