Scotch Whisky is for mixing.
It’s been this way since Tommy Dewar and Alexander Walker blended Scotch for toddies and punches in the 19th century through to the first Golden Age of the Cocktail, when Jerry Thomas set it on fire and tossed it from pewter mug to pewter mug to make his infamous Blue Blazer. So it was during Prohibition when Scotch was taken from Campbeltown across the Atlantic, through Canada and into the speakeasies of Chicago and New York.
Today, a huge quantity of Scotch Whisky is exported to East Asia. Often, yes, to be savoured and collected by enthusiasts, but more often to be mixed and drank in the bars and clubs of Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Taipei. Whisky culture in this part of the world has never seen a pipe nor a slipper - it takes the place of the social lubricant normally held by, dare I say it, Vodka and Gin in the west. Karaoke bars are filled with young men and women who all share in a bottle serve of single malt Scotch, lengthened and enjoyed with soda, cold green tea and yes, shock, Coke. “Blasphemy!” I hear from the back. Far from it I say. It’s about enjoyment, fun, and flavour!
Whisky’s ability to deliver flavour is extraordinary. It’s the unique thing that keeps us coming back again and again - it’s all about individual tastes. I know I get flavours from Kingsbarns that others don’t and vice versa. During a tasting recently I had a nip of Dream to Dram for the first time in probably a month and it had a different texture and flavour than I remembered. The whisky hadn’t changed at all in that time - I had! The glass, the temperature of the room and what I’d had for lunch were all different from the previous time I’d tasted the whisky. We are the variable, and there are plenty of us out there to enjoy whisky in all its forms.
Highballs, or whisky-sodas in old money, are a great way to explore the versatility of Scotch and really open up and discover its flavours. Drams at 40, 46, 50% ABV can be delicious for the enthusiast, but often strong and off putting for the novice. Adding a mixer to lengthen and often carbonate the serve can really help cut through the alcohol and open up a whisky’s individual flavours. Personally, one of the best ways to judge a whisky is with ice and soda. If it’s great in this clean serve with nowhere to hide, we can develop a relationship; if not, it’s probably not for me. It’s a great way to discover a Whisky.
Dream to Dram Highball
Kingsbarns Dream to Dram is a perfect example. This is a youthful, primarily bourbon cask Single Malt, the kind of dram perfectly suited to being served with Soda. It’s clean, refreshing and citrusy neat, so adding soda and fresh ice really opens up and enhances these attributes. The flavour that literally jumps out of the glass, for me, clinging to the bubbles bursting above the surface of the drink, is Green Apple: fresh, citrusy, dry Granny Smith Apple. Any other flavours are to your palate, however the drink itself is dry and citrusy, with any sweetness coming directly from the Dream to Dram itself. We suggest garnish of a couple of thin slices of a Granny Smith to support the flavour and to introduce some sweetness.
Highballs suggest to me the introduction of different flavours and textures to the humble Whisky and Soda. Different mixers - such as ginger ale, tonic or coconut water - can easily introduce sweetness, acidity and bitterness. You can add different liqueurs and modifiers to compliment or contrast the flavours in the whisky. Different types of garnish can enhance these flavours further. One of the best examples I’ve seen of this in the On-Trade was at the London whisky Mecca, Black Rock, where they had three or four stunning highballs on the menu at all times. They were often simple, sometimes complex, but always delicious and far too drinkable.
Our own Kingsbarns Balcomie and tonic is a great example of a modern Highball. Tonic water is an underused but delicious mixer for Whisky, and is perfectly suited to the sherry cask influence in the Balcomie. Bitter-sweet, good quality Indian Tonic Water really opens up our whisky enhancing the flavours seen in the neat spirit and introducing others. Garnishing the drink with a large orange wedge clearly brings out the spirit’s influence. Neat, the dram has real orange peel and dried fruit character - served long with tonic this evolves into an almost marmalade-like flavour. The inspiration for this came from the classic Highball - the sherry & tonic - a refreshing, summery, low ABV serve. With a sherried whisky it made sense to look towards the drinks sherry is traditionally used in, and the Balcomie and tonic is a real winner. Unusual, but delicious.
Scotch Whisky is for mixing. Has always been so and I hope always will be. Highballs are a great way to introduce someone to the category or to develop your own tastes and understanding. Simple to make, even at home, they require very little equipment and preparation. However, for the real thing, I can’t wait to get out and enjoy a Kingsbarns Highball - perfectly made by the nearest willing bartender!
Written by David Smillie, Business Development Manager (West of Scotland)