Some things are just science: the chemistry of one ingredient matched with another produces a pleasurable result. People are like that too. Put them together in the right way and everything turns out for the best. Some are like fine wine or whisky, to be savoured singularly and slowly. Others shine when bumping up against others in the throng of a crowd.
Which brings me to cocktails and the delightful things that happen when delicious ingredients are shaken, muddled, thrown, stirred and strained together. Scotch whisky is notoriously difficult to use in cocktails – it’s robust, complex, sweet, savoury. It needs a precise touch and the right kind of chemistry for it to really shine. However, there are a few classics that not only stand up to Scotch whisky but cry out for single malt smoke and complexity. Enter Ardbeg. These are cocktails that really do sparkle with a little classic Ardbeg/Islay malt in the mix.
Why? Well, Ardbeg Night is just a few short sleeps away and while the Dark Cove promises to be delicious on its own, sometimes it’s fun to push a great spirit and bump it up against a few others. So these are my favourite Scotch cocktails, at least one or two of which I intend to enjoy on May 28th. A number of these cocktails are traditionally made using blended whiskies, but I’m here to vouch for our smoky, rich, peaty single malts and promise you, Ardbeg won’t be wasted on any of these recipes.
THE WHISKY MAC
The Whisky Mac is a lesser-loved cocktail, probably because it barely is one. Take equal parts Stone’s Green Ginger wine or a ginger liqueur of your choosing and serve over ice, with lemon zest if desired, usually in a wine glass or balloon. However, I like to get a little more aggressive and give it a little kick with an additional 15ml of my homemade lemon, ginger and cardamom syrup.all in a Boston over ice. Shake it to pieces, strain with a Hawthorne, serve in a rocks glass with a lemon peel twist and dash of Angostura bitters. This cocktail is often my first choice of drink as the nights get cooler and longer because the ginger and spice is warming. It stands up nicely to the smoky strength of Ardbeg Ten, too. It’s familiar, comforting and like a sigh of relief at the end of a hard day.
- 30ml Scotch whisky
- 30ml ginger wine
- 15ml lemon, ginger & cardamom syrup
- dash of Angostura bitters
Not quite as effective against the flu as actual penicillin but another drink that is apt for those chillier autumn nights. You could be forgiven for thinking the Penicillin must be as old as it’s namesake. But you won’t find it in the pages of the Savoy (an iconic cocktail recipe book). Instead, leap a little further ahead in history to New York in 2005. Legendary Sam Ross created the Penicillin Cocktail at Milk and Honey. He took ginger, honey and lemon flavours then hits it with blended Scotch, before floating a rich, smoky Islay malt on top. The original Penicillin uses Ross’ house-made honey and ginger syrup, but you can substitute fresh grated ginger and honey instead. Ginger can lose it’s zing pretty quick in a syrup, so going with fresh and straining well might be a more reliable result. It’s also best to create a simple syrup with the honey, by mixing equal parts honey and hot water. Simple! Here’s the more detailed recipe if you want to try this at home.
- 60ml blended Scotch whisky
- 22ml fresh lemon juice
- 22ml honey syrup
- 5 slices fresh ginger
- 7.5ml Islay single malt Scotch
Muddle the fresh ginger in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, really smash it up. Add the blended Scotch, lemon juice, honey syrup and fill shaker with ice. Shake well until icy. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and pour the single malt over the back of a bar spoon so that it floats on top of the the drink.
‘What whisky cannot cure, there is no cure for.’
Probably one of the greatest Scotch whisky cocktails ever created, you will find the Blood and Sand in the pages of the Savoy Cocktail Book. It was supposedly named for a 1922 silent film starring Rudolph Valentino as an ill-fated matador. The ingredients may surprise you slightly but if the Penicillin and Whisky Mac are set for autumn months, the Blood and Sand will sustain you through the dark corners of winter in a complex, rich embrace.
- 30ml Scotch – you can use a blend here but again, a robust single malt will stand up nicely
- 30ml fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 22ml sweet vermouth
- 22ml Cherry Heering
Pour all of ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice, and shake well for 10 seconds; strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a cherry.
A Manhattan may be one of the greatest cocktails I’ve ever met. Made with scotch whisky, the Manhattan becomes the Rob Roy. The recipe is more than a century old, and you can reassuringly order one everywhere from artisan cocktail bars with hand-carved ice to the beer and fries pub on the corner. It’s hard to mess up because it’s delightfully simple, but you mustn’t forget the bitters. Because it is so simple, it’s easy to kick this drink to the next level by upgrading some of the ingredients – use Carpano Antica Formula for example. I’ve messed with the bitters from time to time as well. And if you pick the right single malt, the Rob Roy will be accommodating enough to hold it’s own. Again, you need the complexity you might get from a big smoky, peaty rich Islay malt to balance the sweetness of the vermouth and the bitters.
- 60ml Scotch whisky
- 30ml sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: lemon or orange twist
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well for about 20 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon or orange peel over the drink and use as garnish.
MODERN No 2
Another classic from the Savoy cocktail book, the Modern No 2 pairs scotch with sloe gin, with dashes of absinthe, grenadine and bitters lending additional complexity. Given that sloe gin is back on the rise, it’s an ideal time to celebrate this complicated relationship. Plymouth Sloe Gin or The Bitter Truth Sloe Gin from Germany. Each has a natural tartness from using real sloe berries rather than artificial flavorings. They also have a bright potency of flavor, so it’s a good idea to use a scotch with a little gumption to it.
- 30ml Scotch whisky
- 60ml sloe gin
- 1 dash orange bitters
- 1 dash absinthe
- 1 dash pomegranate grenadine
This is a little extra for experts… because it’s almost not a cocktail, but surprises me with tastiness.
- 30ml Scotch whisky – smoky single malt, please
- 30ml Amaretto
This is an interesting drink, which made with a lesser Scotch would be too sweet to be palatable. Think of the Rusty Nail (Drambuie and Scotch) but with more complexity thanks to the smoke and richness of a solid single malt and the nuttiness of the amaretto. Try it just once, even if you hate yourself a little bit.
Ardbeg Day – Saturday 28th May
Stocks of Dark Cove will sell out super fast but you can purchase yours at any of the Embassies below or join me at The Jefferson, New Zealand’s only Ardbeg Embassy bar from 6pm to try the Dark Cove and maybe ask for a cocktail or two.
Auckland – House of Whiskey, 38 Courthouse Lane from 11am to 4pm, The Jefferson, 7 Fort Lane from 6pm til late
Wellington – Regional Wines, Beers & Spirits, 15 Ellice Street, Mt Victoria from 11am–4pm
Christchurch – Whisky Galore, 834 Colombo Street will be hosting Ardbeg Day come Night from 5:30pm- 8:30pm.