Single Malt Cocktails

A couple of years ago, in this very magazine, we got into a heap of trouble with craft brewers when we suggested that good beer should be used to make mixed drinks, such as a lager and lime. Sometimes we like a bit of strife, so we thought it was time to see how far we could push the master distillers of Bonny Scotland. You see, for some time now, we have been enjoying cocktails made with single malt scotches.

The theory we put forth about using only the best of beers in order to make the best mixed drinks holds true with single malts and scotch-based cocktails. Simply put, a Rob Roy made with a good blended scotch is a joy to behold; make it with a moderately priced single malt, and the cocktail becomes a masterpiece. Here’s the point: we usually drink our single malts-just like most fans of the category-at room temperature, either neat or with a splash of spring water. But we don’t always want a neat scotch. And if we are in the mood for a cocktail, we are not the type to settle for one made with just any old bottle that comes to hand. We use our single malts-with some minor adjustments to our cocktail recipes.

Minor adjustment #1:
You might need to alter the proportions of scotch to the other ingredients. Adjust carefully. For example, there’s no need to use quite as much vermouth in a malt Rob Roy as you would if you were using a blended scotch-let the scotch shine through. And if you are a fan of the Rusty Nail, we suggest you add just a touch of Drambuie rather than a whole shot.

Minor adjustment #2:
Think about exactly which bottling of single malt to use in your new, rather expensive drinks. Highland malts generally work very well indeed in a Rob Roy, but be careful here-you need to choose a huge, supple, somewhat fruity malt for the best results, and some Highland bottlings are a little too lean for use in this particular cocktail. These lighter-bodied Highland malts are a good choice for a dry Rob Roy (dry vermouth instead of sweet), and some work particularly well when mixed over ice with ginger ale. Islay malts-the bigger the better-are a good choice for Rusty Nails, and these pungent, yet sweetish, cocktails are, perhaps, one of the best examples of how malts can turn your favorite mixed drink into a dream come true.

Minor adjustment #3:
Though we love and adore bitters wholeheartedly and know, without question that they are a necessary ingredient in most of our favorite cocktails, as a rule, bitters should be omitted from drinks made with single malt scotch.
Here’s the scoop: when you make, say, a Rob Roy with a good Highland malt, the vermouth mingles with the malt and, to some degree, masks many of its intricacies-some would say that it’s the ruination of two good drinks. When bitters are added to the formula, however, we find that instead of heightening the flavor of the drink, which is the norm, they actually deaden it a little. Why? We assume that since malts tend to bear layers and layers of flavors, the complexities of bitters simply block even more of these delightful nuances and render the drink somewhat flat. The other ingredients in the drink may mask the flavors of the scotch somewhat, but without our usual dash of bitters, the complexities of single malts do actually manage to shine on through.

Minor adjustment #4:
Don’t mix a good single malt with fruit juices-except in one nigh-on heretical instance: Try adding a little tomato juice to a good, well sherried, Highland malt. And if you dare to try this drink (The Bloody “whatever malt you choose”), we guarantee-without a “money-back” offer-that you will be astounded. The idea for this particular concoction came from a wily Scot who was actually in the distillery business when he confessed his love for malts and tomato juice, but he made us swear that we would never reveal his name. If you are reading this, Mr. MacNonymous, thanks for this glorious drink. We have never met a master distiller we didn’t love, and if, by writing this article and confessing our sins, we have caused anyone in the scotch industry to despair, we apologize profusely. We suggest anyone offended by this piece should take a wee dram of their favorite malt, release the bouquet with a few drops of spring water, and retire immediately. But if you are all alone, and you are sure that no one will see, add a little ice and a splash of sweet vermouth. Your conscience may never be clear, but you will sleep well this night.

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