From rum to agave spirits, everybody has an opinion on the next drink to ‘do a gin’. In this series, Clinton Cawood looks at the contenders striving to follow in the footsteps of the juniper spirit and hit the big time
There’s no doubting that scotch is currently enjoying a moment, in the UK and further afield too – but how can it build on that success?
The key, for Michał Maziarz of Great Scotland Yard Hotel, lies with blended whisky. ‘It started with Compass Box, who simply paid more attention to blends, treating and marketing them differently,’ he says. ‘They’re no longer in the style of the house.’
‘Whisky is a wonderful thing to pair with food, but you have to dilute it, using something like cold-brew tea, or a highball with a splash of cordial like this,’ says Maziarz.
‘The cordial is just a slight adjustment. The result isn’t as intrusive or sugary as a Collins, but not as dry as a classic highball either. You can use something like the champagne cordial from Happiness Forgets or any other cordial. And that lets people play with garnishes, much like people use different tonics and garnishes for gin. It could be orange zest, rosemary or thyme.’
Garnish: According to cordial used
Method: Build over ice in highball glass.
50ml blended scotch whisky
Splash of cordial
The result gives the versatility of the scotch category a significant boost. ‘There’s maybe more variety with blends now than in single malts, and to some extent the style is more accessible. Blenders can pick whiskies from producers that have more than they can sell, in interesting combinations, and the beautiful thing is that they don’t cost a fortune.’
Financial considerations like these are of particular importance when it comes to mixing. ‘Cocktails are always a good option for any spirit category, but putting a single malt in a cocktail dictates a certain price. Using a blend, however, allows you to have those complex flavour profiles at much lower price points,’ says Maziarz.
And those flavour profiles allow bartenders to rethink some assumptions about how whisky should be mixed. ‘It can be used in cocktails using seasonal ingredients, rather than dry, spirit-driven cocktails. The majority of whisky worldwide is drunk with mixers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It should be encouraged. Even a good Whisky Highball is something different. For the past 20 years we were told what not do with our whiskies.’
More generally, the scotch category has a lot going for it, says Maziarz, who picks out its key advantages as being diversity and authenticity, as well as consistency. ‘It’s been a good few years since I tasted anything that I’d consider bad, except sometimes for the price point,’ he says.
The regulations help to ensure this degree of quality can be both a blessing and a curse for the category. ‘Compared to a category like gin, it doesn’t leave much option, or loopholes. It can be restricting, but in some sense it’s reassuring too.’