There are many times with a whisky where it is impossible to separate the story from the taste. This is why blind tastings are used for critically assessing the characteristics (and flaws) within a product. However, it's hard to remove a great story from affecting the way we taste something. In fact, I've often said the product in question can be quite secondary in the enjoyment of something. Think of a great meal - often it is the company at the time that makes the affair memorable - it might not be the food at all. I say this to my bartenders - the atmosphere and service surrounding a cocktail are paramount. Of course I do not want them to serve anything but exemplary drinks, but the cocktails only form part of the experience.
On the plus side, provenance and the story behind a brand can affect how we perceive, taste and ultimately enjoy a product. The great thing is that brands are beginning to understand this and are more willing to diverge their underlying story. This has been largely led by the smaller craft producers who see the value in brand loyalty of allowing consumers to observe the whole process - warts and all - to encourage them to buy into the 'crafted' nature of their product. This has been met with huge applause; craft producers are booming, and consumers are enjoying the locality of their products and in light of recent scares within our food chain, it allows consumers to believe much more in what they are buying. The converse is also certainly the case. Brands that are unwilling to illustrate and bare their details are met with suspicion; the wonder involved in a 'secret recipe' still has gravity, but glossing over industrial processes becomes - or seems - very opaque, like there's something being hidden.
So many threads can become entwined within the story of a brand that they can become fun, stimulating and again, bolstering to loyalty.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to play on the name of a product. This was the starting point when I was creating this serve with Compass Box's 'Peat Monster'. This is not only a clever brand name that ties into the playfulness of the brand, but creates a strong link towards the flavours that are present in the whisky. Before the glass has reached your nose, the name has posited an anticipation of the smokiness in your mind. In fact, this becomes a key aspect of the skill of the blend. Of course the whisky is smoky, but it has a wonderful fruitiness and something coastal about it that is swirled into the image of this as a 'peat monster'. The name alone makes it a joy to mix with (and drink!). I've paired it in a style of drink known as a 'maid'. The roasted cucumber brings a rich vegetal note that matches the coastal qualities, whilst the anise from the fennel tops not only mirrors the 'seasoning' from the peychaud bitters, but also alludes to the eponymous monster's tentacles. Fun, but also tasty.
The second drink is a classic 'Blood and Sand.' An unusual selection of ingredients that makes little sense on paper, and one would be forgiven for thinking it was simply to create the colour of the title but in fact if balanced well, it's a wonderful drink. Again though, I've used a whisky that alludes to the image required; here I've used Bowmore Darkest. The whisky's name sidles into the cocktail name perfectly - painting an image of something macabre and enticing. In reality, the deeper chocolate notes and sweet lick of smoked fruits plays wonderfully into the serve.
Finally we have a drink based around Amrut Fusion. Again the name alludes to the make up of the whisky, and the cocktail here balances some heather honey to play to the Scottish roots of the barley, and some fresh mango to include the Indian side - Regan's orange bitters provide a touch of cardamom and Indian spices.
60ml Compass Box Peat Monster
4 dashes peychaud bitters
8ml sugar syrup
3 slices roasted cucumber
Stir over ice, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with fennel tops
Blood and Sand
30ml Bowmore Darkest
30ml freshly squeezed orange juice
20ml cherry brandy 20ml sweet vermouth
Shake all hard and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a discarded orange twist and a cherry
1 teaspoon heather honey
2 dashes Regan's orange bitters
3 pieces dried mango 50ml Amrut fusion
Add all to a mixing glass and stir without ice until honey is dissolved. Add ice, and stir. Strain over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a flamed orange twist and a slice of dried mango