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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS: WHISKY COCKTAILS REINVENTED

As we celebrate World Whisky Day this month, we take a look at the iconic spirit’s history and how it has evolved to become a regular base of popular serves. Tim Philips-Johansson, Global Johnnie Walker Brand Ambassador, recounts how this traditional spirit has gone from zero to hero thanks to the creativity of today’s bartenders, who in turn have made it the cool thing to drink again. Tim and two other Brand Ambassadors, Jo Last and TJ Littlejohn, also give us the recipes for their favorite whisky cocktails.

LONG LIVE THE WHISKY RENAISSANCE - HURRAH!

Whisky is having a moment and is definitely the flavor of the month again! By that I mean more than ever, whisky and the brand I get to represent, Johnnie Walker, are being enjoyed in places and at times by people not traditionally expected. And it’s about time!

Bottle of Johnnie Walker Black label with ingredients for Rob Roy cocktail

THE HISTORY OF THIS ICONIC SPIRIT

Whisk(e)y has a storied and celebrated history. After phylloxera, an insect pest wiped out most of France’s brandy stocks (1870s), America, the birthplace of the cocktail, rightly associated their homegrown liquids as cocktails like the Julep, Old-Fashioned and Highball started to gain popularity.

Over the next 100 years whisk(e)y would fall in and out of favor with consumers. Global trends would see the emergence of Tiki Drink culture (1950s-60s), Disco Drinks (1970’s-80’s) to a welcomed return to classic cocktail culture. This invigoration of a bygone era shone a light on whisky in cocktails again.

The modern bartender, now armed with a multitude of global whisky options, started to experiment with liquids believed to be better suited than their historical predecessors. Scotch – not Rye and Bourbon – was finally having its time in the cocktail sun.

WHISKY IN COCKTAILS: MAKE SOME ROOM FOR SCOTCH

We tend to look at our American counterparts – the likes of rye and bourbon, for cocktail cues, but scotch is making more and more sense as the base of these serves. For example, the depth of flavor and boldness of character inherent in Johnnie Walker Black Label mean there perhaps isn't a more malleable liquid on the market.

From Highballs to Manhattans, whisky can be adaptable enough to bring out light fruit floral elements, to deeper, richer and broodier poached fruit character. A personal favorite cocktail of mine is the Rob Roy. With all things considered, it's a Scotch Manhattan; Scotch, Vermouth and Bitters. However, within these parameters can lie a deep scope for experimentation.

HOW TO CREATE A WHISKY COCKTAIL TO REMEMBER

  1. For starters, play around with the whisky you use. Johnnie Walker Black Label is the greatest all-rounder on your back bar, but feel free to get creative with other brands, from smokier malts (such as Caol Ila or Talisker) to softer grain whisky (like Haig Club).
  2. Vermouth need not be required either. Use the vermouth elements as an invitation to experiment with other fortified wines and aperitifs like sherry.
  3. Lastly, don’t forget the bitters; fruit bitters, chocolate bitters or traditional dark spice bitters all make for enticing riffs. Get mixing today!

Rob Roy

Method: Stir all ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled coupette. Garnish with a citrus peel or whisky-soaked cherry.

Here is a video of me making this fantastic serve – enjoy!


image of whisky cocktail sitting on table

The Singleton Cucumber Tonic by Jo Last

*Cordial recipe:

Method: Add all ingredients into a container and mix well. Cold infuse for 2 hours (longer if you want the Kaffir to be stronger).

Why I enjoy this cocktail: For me, this is the serve that brings malt whisky into a different season. We often see whisky being enjoyed in the winter months but this fresh serve highlights the fruity notes in The Singleton 12yr and works really well in Summer.


image of french martini in martini glass

Lagavulin French Martini by TJ Littlejohn

Method: Shake and double strain into a coupe

Why this shake-up of a classic serve works: This cocktail is definitely not what it says on the tin, it isn't actually French and it's not a traditional martini, so why not take it one step further and throw in some whisky!


Talisker Bloody Mary Cocktail

Talisker Bloody Mary by TJ Littlejohn

Method: Roll and serve tall over cubed ice

Why I enjoy this cocktail: In my opinion, this serve really highlights the versatility of whisky and is a fantastic way to spice up an already incredible classic cocktail!


image of pina colada in glass with garnish

Caol Ila Seabuckthorn Pina Colada by TJ Littlejohn

Method: Shake and Strain to Rocks with cubed ice. Garnish with Sea Wee Sherbert Rim -

*Sea Buckthorn Juice

Method:

  1. Wash the berries and blend them using a hand blender or a food processor. This will result in a runny puree of the berries and their seeds.
  2. Add a sweetener, and blend the berries for 1 more minute.
  3. Strain the juice using a mesh strainer (sieve), and set the pulp aside.
  4. Dilute the juice with water, and serve chilled.

Why this cocktail is awesome: Aside from the multitude of health benefits from the berries, this drink makes you see the Pina Colada in a whole new light and is one of my favorite ways to make a non-traditional whisky cocktail.