Spirited Cuisine: Scotch whisky

On the rocks -- Orkney Islands in ScotlandThis is the sixth installment in the Spirited Cuisine series from Sri Bala (Shaman) and me. Each round, I select a liquor or spirit, and Sri creates a dessert recipe incorporating it. Find Sri’s posts at his blog and mine here within the Lush Life category.

Here’s a great cocktail made with Scotch…..

Are you still here? Thank you for staying. You are a special, open-minded sort of person. People avoid Scotch-based cocktails for one of two reasons:

  1. They are "real Scotch drinkers" and would never pollute their beverage of choice with mixers — nothing stronger than an ice cube or a splash of water or soda.
  2. They despise the taste of Scotch and would never drink it in any form.

Scotch is the Champagne of liquors: It comes only from a particular region of the world, the government of a country regulates what may and may not use its name, and it’s surrounded by allure and confusion.

Scotch out-Champagnes Champagne in fact, because it somehow creates fierce loyalty in its drinkers. According to my source at the PA Wines & Spirits store at Moraine Point in Butler, Scotch buyers walk in the door and directly to their label of choice, never look at another brand, and walk out empty-handed if their Scotch isn’t in stock.

The real name for Scotch is "Scotch whisky" — note the absence of the "e." Quick definition:

Malt whisky must contain no grain other than malted barley and is traditionally distilled in pot stills. Grain whisky may contain unmalted barley or other malted or unmalted grains such as wheat and maize (corn) and is typically distilled in a continuous column still, known as a Patent or Coffey still, the latter after Aeneas Coffey who refined the column still in 1831. While there are scores of malt whisky distilleries, only seven grain distilleries currently exist, most located in the Scottish Lowlands.

Scotch, Canadian whisky, Irish whiskey, American whiskey, and bourbon are all made nearly the same way, but with different starting ingredients. You’d think this would mean they are easily substituted for each other in cocktails. You can swap Canadian whisky, American whiskey, and bourbon without much loss, but not Scotch or Irish whiskey — and the prime reason is the smoky peat flavor that’s characteristic to these two types.

The smoke flavor comes when peat is used in the fire that roasts the barley malt. It completely changes a drink — much the way that grilling over a mesquite fire imparts a distinctive flavor to the meat or vegetable. It’s distinctive, and many people like it. And many others find it awful.

The best Scotch cocktails use the peat smoke flavor to advantage. Three that I recommend are the Rob Roy, the Godfather, and the Black Watch. Why these drinks work is that the second ingredient (sweet vermouth, Amaretto, and Kahlua, respectively) is strong enough to stand up to the smoke of the Scotch. You get a blend of both flavors, plus some sweetness. Of the three, my favorite is the Godfather.

Rob Roy
1 part sweet vermouth
4 parts Scotch
Either chill a stemmed cocktail glass or put ice in a lowball/rocks glass. Fill a shaker with ice, add ingredients, stir or shake, strain into glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

3 parts Scotch
1 part Amaretto
Put ice in a rocks glass. Add ingredients, stir well, serve.

Black Watch
1 part Kahlua
1 part Scotch
splash of soda water
Put ice in rocks glass. Add Kahlua and Scotch, stir briefly, add splash of soda. Garnish with lemon twist and serve.

If you’re not familiar with Scotch, you may now be asking which type of Scotch to use for these drinks. If you do drink Scotch, you are probably still thinking that you’re never going to defile your drink with mixers and odd ingredients.

Here’s the thing: All Scotch is not created equal, just as all bourbons are not the same. If you give me a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20 year, I will not be using it to make Old Fashioneds. Similarly, if you’ve got a bit of Aberlour a’bunadh, I’d suggest you serve it in a small glass with an ice cube or a bit of filtered water. You will need nothing else.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a cocktail that combines rich flavor with sweetness but still has some backbone, grab a bottle of Scotch in the $20 to $40 range, mix up a nice Godfather, and enjoy.

Sri has strong affection for Scotch and was more than a little concerned when I suggested he devise a dessert with it. Yet he succeeded. Hop over to his site and check out "single malt whisky jelly with lemon sorbet." Mmm!

Next time: Spiced rum.

6 replies on “Spirited Cuisine: Scotch whisky”

  1. I am one of those who “despise the taste of Scotch and would never drink it in any form.” But it occurs to me, reading your explanation, that I haven’t actually tried much proper Scotch. My parents were devoted Jack Daniels drinkers (which is not to say that they were devoted to drinking, but when they drank, they were devoted to Jack), and I grew up loathing the stuff–and, by association, any similar sort of whiskyesque liquor.

    But I am a grownup now, or so my doctor tells me, and maybe I should give the brown stuff another chance.

  2. When I was in grad school, my friend Martin from Scotland (I’m not making that up) broke open a bottle of 14-year old Macallan he’d been saving. It was the evening of our candidacy exams and we had been celebrating over quarter-beers at Bridgets (the corner bar without the dirt floor, I’ll only stoop so low). Here are several mistakes Martin made:

    1. He offered the Scotch after quarter-beers.

    2. He served it in stained ceramic, stolen-from-the-cafeteria mugs.

    3. He added no ice.

    4. He did not make us sip.

    Bad, bad Scotch experience.

    Every time my husband orders it and offers me a taste, I decline. My thoughts turn to Martin who, later that night, tumbled out of a friend’s truck bed as we rounded a bend. (Rule #1: Don’t sit on the wheel well, especially after Scotch.) Fortunately, the Scotch was strong enough to keep him from getting hurt. He hopped back in and we drove off.

  3. India, it is most certainly time for you to try a whiskey or whisky. I might suggest trying bourbon first though. It’s a little more approachable than Scotch. Bourbon and gingerale would be a terrific choice — and it’s the definitive highball.

    Scotch plays well with gingerale too, come to think of it. Hmm, I wonder if I have any gingerale around here….

  4. Judy, Martin’s drunken flexibility is yet another example that liquor can protect one’s health. I rarely get colds, and it seems to me that this is because I treat the first sniffles with a hot toddy — whiskey, lemon, and sugar with hot water. Soothing and delicious, plus I’m sure it kills all the nasty germs. Or so I tell myself.

    For you, I’d suggest trying a Godfather on the rocks. You will love it. The Amaretto is a knock out. But just have one, or you really will be knocked out. :)

  5. Oh! But I forgot! I do drink hot toddies, having proven through scientific method that they Cure What Ails You. I discovered this maybe seven or eight years ago when I had one of the nastiest fluey colds of my life: pre-toddy, I felt like half an Italian lira, circa 1989; post-toddy, I felt like one million British pounds, circa today. That’s good medicine.

    I can also attest that my sodden ex-boyfriend, Drinky Crow, not only never got colds but also was considered a nonfood item by mosquitos. I suspect that you have to keep your levels pretty consistently high for bourbon to have that effect, though, and it may repel humans, as well.

  6. A Hot Toddy is good medicine indeed. Mosquitos still seem to find me edible, so I must not be at Drink Crow levels. I get the sense that this is a good thing, yes?

    Actually, I’ve been told that taking B vitamins helps to make one unappetizing to mosquitos. But I also believe I’ve read that drinking leeches away B vitamins. I don’t know how these two pieces of quasi-information play into the discussion. Maybe we need to look for a way to turn B vitamins into a garnish, or a chaser.

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