When the cocktail revolution began a decade or so ago Whiskey cocktails were a bit player as white spirits were in favor. Not anymore.
In truth, white spirits cocktails are relatively new. Grab a drinks recipe book from a century ago and you will find a great majority of these libations to be based upon either Whiskey or Brandy. As brown spirits improved in both quality and stature a trend toward using these drams as solo performers grew.
Today with the vast popularity of Single Malt Whisky, Single Barrel & Small Batch Bourbon, and Premium Whiskies from Ireland, Canada, and Japan some consumers still find it blasphemous to get these spirits near ice and a shaker. Whiskey plays in the same space as any other premium spirit and we all know that better Spirits make better cocktails. However, there is always a point of a diminishing return and perhaps your 30 year old Islay Single Malt is best kept out of your Rob Roy.
Whiskey comes to the party with a whole range of flavors and aromas. A clumsy hand can trample all over these flavors resulting in a drink that has masked its star performer. Whiskey cocktails seek harmony. When in doubt stick with the classics, they are your friend.
When creating your own Whiskey libations be aware that the Whiskey is not simply a base it’s also the primary flavor if you have done it right. Vodka is a blank slate waiting for the artist to transform it into something magical understanding that imagination and knowledge of potential ingredients are the sole limitations. To continue with the artist metaphor, Whiskey is to a mixologist as a boulder is to a sculptor. The form was always contained within and it was the sculptor’s task to reveal it.
Profiling Whiskey in Cocktails
Rye – Big and bold and won’t easily be intimidated by the other ingredients. Assertive modifiers like Absinthe and the bold herbal Liqueurs will latch on to Rye’s spicy nature as long as you’re not too heavy-handed with these Spirits.
Bourbon – Bourbon too is big and bold especially the labels that feature a good portion of Rye in the mix.
Irish Blended – Blended Irish Whiskies provide a lovely base for light to moderately styled cocktails adding a pleasing sweet grain profile. Vermouth, Sherry, and fruit Liqueurs are willing companions.
Scotch Blended – This category of Whisky is an excellent place to start when creating the classic Scotch Whisky cocktail. Generally speaking the flavors are grain-focused with a punch from double distilled malt Whisky making it a bit heavier that the Irish Blended.
Single Malts – Tread careful here as there is no one-size-fits all description of a Single Malt Whiskey especially if it hails from Scotland. The rule of diminishing returns is much in play here and I am very reluctant to mix anything at all with most of my Single Malts.
Whiskey Cocktails We Love
The Manhattan – The Manhattan is a classic American cocktail. Like many classics, it has inspired many inventive variations. Get the full story and recipe.
Rob Roy – The Rob Roy is a classic cocktail created in New York City at the Waldorf Hotel in 1894. Get the full story and recipe.
Algonquin Cocktail – This great drink shows the versatility of Whiskey in cocktails and the spicy appeal of Rye. Get the full story and recipe.
Whiskey Sour – We most often subscribe to the notion that less is more and the Whiskey Sour, when done properly is a shining example of this belief. Get the full story and recipe.