When mass production of liquor was first being developed back in the 19th century, it took a while for the manufacturers to really nail their art. Sometimes the spirits being produced were, let me put it this way, quite awful.
The only way to mask the substandard nature of the drinks was through making cocktails and thus the art of mixing drinks was born. It was around this time that several eminent bartenders, such as ‘‘Professor” Jerry Thomas of New York and, later, Harry Craddock of London’s Savoy Hotel, found themselves at the forefront of cocktail-development, influencing the early landscape of an art which today is known as ‘‘mixology”.
Both men wrote passionately on the subject and Thomas’ The Bartender’s Guide-How To Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion, originally published in 1862, is widely acknowledged as the first attempt to document mixology in its earliest guise. Assuming the role of head bartender at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York, Thomas travelled across the world, collecting and documenting recipes and mixing techniques to be tried out on the New York glitterati. His signature cocktail—the Blue Blazer—shows off not only the focus on individual elements of the drink, but also the extreme showmanship he had become known for; in making the drink, he created an arc of flaming whisky which was passed between two tankards. Not something I would recommend trying at home. Well, not while the wife is watching at any rate...
It is men such as these who have inspired me to have a go at mixing cocktails at home (without burning my house down, of course), and, for the last few months, I’ve been choosing a different drink to mix each week, inviting friends over to try my wares. This achieves three goals. Firstly, it invites community between my friends. Secondly, I get to use some of the liquor that rarely gets touched at home, and, thirdly, I can practise making my cocktails, with little shame if it all goes wrong. At least that is the plan.
However, a word of warning: When making a cocktail at home, I would steer away from using my best whisky. Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a blend that has been crafted by the master blender using some of the finest, rarest and oldest whisky available in Scotland. This in itself is a wonderful construction. You don’t need to do a lot more to it than pour it over ice, if you wish, in a large tumbler and sit back after work while trying to ignore the rumblings of your family business for five minutes.
For a cocktail, certainly a whisky cocktail, you’ll need a lower-end blended Scotch (J&B Rare or Johnnie Walker Red Label) or a straight American bourbon (Jim Beam). You could even use some Indian whisky such as Bagpiper or 8PM. If you’re looking to play with a gin martini, for example, look to use very good gin, as this is where the majority of the flavour will come from. Beefeater or Tanqueray 10 are my choice and always worth picking up at an airport while travelling. You can always justify it as a gift for the wife!
The first cocktail I chose to get to grips with is super-easy: The Whiskey Sour, a fantastically refreshing drink, especially in the summer heat.
Firstly, and this is about as difficult as it gets, you’ll need to make some sugar syrup. An easy job and vital to many cocktails: take around half a litre of water and bring it to a boil. Add sugar, twice as much as water, and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Let it cool. This can be stored in a closed bottle in the refrigerator for a couple of months. Longer than my chocolate stays in there, that’s for sure!
From here, making the Whiskey Sour is easy. Cut half a lemon in to quarter segments and squeeze into a cocktail shaker. On top of this, add 25ml of sugar syrup, a dash of orange-flavoured Angostura bitters (another cocktail cabinet must) and 50ml of Jim Beam American bourbon whiskey. The next bit is optional: an egg white. This will add a creamy texture to the cocktail and a wonderful, cappuccino-style frothy head to the drink, but is not vital. The next bit is vital, however. Add lots of ice to the shaker. Put the top on and shake it well, being careful to hold the lid! I have often let the showmanship of making a cocktail take over from the seriousness of the role, only to find the lid coming loose and, seconds later, wearing the cocktail all down my shirt. Not funny at all.
Once the cocktail has been given a good ol’ shake, strain it off into a large tumbler full of ice. Hey Presto! You have one delicious, beautiful and refreshing drink, which will seriously impress your friends. Honestly, once you start making them, you won’t be able to stop!
All you need to do now is expand your cocktail making skills and you’ll be the most wanted man at any party in India! Just don’t go throwing flaming whisky around. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Apart from the Whiskey Sour, these are some of the easiest and most popular whisky cocktails.
• One sugar cube
• 40ml American rye whiskey
• 3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
• Lemon peel
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir until the sugar cube has dissolved. Rinse a tumbler glass with absinthe by pouring a small amount into the glass, swirling it around and discarding the liquid. Strain the drink from the mixing glass into the tumbler glass and serve.
• 40ml of American bourbon or rye whiskey such as Jim Beam
• 20ml of sweet vermouth such as Martini Rosso
• Three dashes of bitters such as Angostura
• Maraschino cherry for garnishing
Pour all the ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice cubes and stir well. Strain into martini-style glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Note: Use Scotch instead of bourbon and you get Rob Roy.
• 50ml of American whiskey or Scotch whisky.
• One sugar cube with a dash of Angostura bitters on top
• Zest of one orange (thin slice of the peel) or lemon
Although the recipe is simple, this should take time to construct properly. Add the ingredients to a tumbler glass with ice cubes, stirring until the sugar cube has dissolved. Add more ice as it melts. Serve with orange zest.
• Equal measures of Scotch whisky and ginger wine
This one is as easy as it can get. Pour the whisky and ginger wine into a wine goblet. No ice is required. Can be served hot by adding some hot water.
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant and co-founder of the websiteCaskstrength.net
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