Making the MacNicol

In Composing cocktails part 1, Australian bartender Angus Burton struck a chord with readers juxtaposing cocktail creation and music composition. In this continuation, he talks about how one of his signature cocktails, The MacNicol, came to be…

The first time I made a cocktail that tasted better at room temperature than freshly stirred with ice was, at the time, a revelation to me and my workmates. This cocktail was later singled out as a standout signature cocktail at the Diageo World Class Australia Finals in 2011. It’s called The MacNicol.

The story of the MacNicol cocktail

  1. My bar manager Will Balleau asked for a cocktail to finish his night. I was in love with Talisker then and decided to make a twist on a Bobby Burns.

The Bobby Burns was my favourite cocktail at the time and I was inspired by a previous stopover in Hamburg, when Joerg Meyer of Le Lion made me a 'dry' Bobby Burns with single malt whisky, dry vermouth, Benedictine liqueur and bitters. The lightness of the cocktail brought on by the dry vermouth was an interesting and memorable discovery.

  1. I picked out the flavours in Talisker that I wanted to showcase: apricot and chocolate. On the back bar we had a Croatian apricot liqueur and Mozart Dry chocolate spirit - both dry and strong cocktail ingredients that would serve in place of Benedictine, adding sweetness while accentuating the flavours of Talisker.
  1. I mixed Talisker and Noilly Pratt dry vermouth at a very-dry 3:1 ratio. Then adding the sweetness of the chocolate and apricot to the cocktail, I tasted it.
  1. The cocktail was a little too dry so I added a 'dash' of Rosso Antico to finish.
  1. Now, the cocktail was balanced and had a tension. I decided that it didn't need bitters.
  1. I stirred it down and garnished the cocktail with an orange zest. After a couple of minutes, I discarded the zest so as not to leave the drink tasting overly of orange.
  1. Mr Balleau tasted it, loved it, and was called away.
  1. After twenty minutes, I took another sip of the drink and thought it tasted better at room temperature.
  1. Encouraged by Mr Balleau I recorded the specifications and recreated the cocktail at the Diageo World Class Finals.
  1. I tried the cocktail with other liqueurs, white cacao and a different brand of apricot, but to no sign of improvement.
  1. I named the cocktail The MacNicol, after my family who originated, like Talkiser, from the Isle of Skye.

The MacNicol

45ml Talisker
15ml Noilly Pratt
7.5ml Maraska Apricot Liqueur
7.5ml Mozart Dry
5ml Rosso Antico

Stir down and finish with an orange zest (discarded)

Best wishes now in creating your own cocktails. To help you along, here’s a diagram I developed to structure and streamline my personal cocktail composition process. I still refer to it regularly in my work and I hope you’ll find it helps yours!

Angus Burton is the Australian runner-up in Diageo World Class 2012 and has won numerous bartending competitions. His passion started with his first bartending gig: blending Ramos Gin Fizzes for friends and family 10 years ago. To Angus, cocktails are the ultimate enjoyment of purity through the realisation of experiential theatre. Angus writes from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.