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Scotch Looks To Break Through On The Mixology Front

February 2, 2017

Mixologists have long embraced American whiskies, but it’s been a different story for Scotch. “Most classic cocktails are made with American whiskey,” notes Matt Tocco, beverage director for Strategic Hospitality, an on-premise operator with nine properties in the Nashville market.

“American and Irish whiskies are still king when it comes to cocktails,” agrees Andrew Abrahamson, director of single-spirit bars for Los Angeles-based 213 Hospitality—which owns whisk(e)y-focused Seven Grand in Los Angeles and San Diego, among other venues.

But Scotch’s role in cocktails is starting to evolve. Last fall, Diageo launched a national campaign to promote Johnnie Walker’s mixability. The “Flavors of America” program is partnering with 11 U.S. mixologists on 48 new Johnnie Walker-based cocktails.

Mixologists stress the importance of understanding Scotch whisky’s breadth of expressions. “Bartenders are often tentative because of the category’s wide range of styles,” says Tom Walker, bartender at Fresh Kills in Brooklyn, New York. Walker has created a number of Scotch-based cocktails for Fresh Kills, including the Nova Scotia ($13), blending Dewar’s The Ancestor 12-year-old blended Scotch whisky, Yellow Chartreuse liqueur, and a mixture of Regans’ No. 6 and Fee Brothers orange bitters.

More broadly, Islay malts are also finding a home in the cocktail culture. At the Seven Grand in Los Angeles, general manager Victor Delgado’s The Donnie ($14) follows a simple sour recipe, featuring Ardbeg 10-year-old single malt Scotch, honey, egg white, lemon and lime juices, and Angostura bitters. Another of Delgado’s cocktails, The Walter ($13), is tiki-inspired and includes Laphroaig Quarter Cask, simple syrup, mint and lemon and pineapple juices.

The tiki trend has led many bartenders to start experimenting with Scotch in punches and tiki-style cocktails. Strategic Hospitality-owned Pinewood Social in Nashville offers Captain Cook’s Scotch Punch ($15), which features Auchentoshan American Oak, Pierre Ferrand dry Curaçao, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, house-made spiced cherry syrup, lemon and grapefruit juices, and Peychaud’s bitters. At Seamstress in New York City, Lana Gailani’s Thief of Always ($15) blends Pu-erh tea–infused Black Bottle blended Scotch, Galliano L’Autentico herbal liqueur, Grand Marnier, house-made vanilla syrup, and lemon and orange juices.

Miami-based mixologist Gabe Orta, who leads the Diageo “Flavors of America” program, touts cocktails like the Andès Road, made with Johnnie Walker Red, absinthe, simple syrup, soda water, and passion fruit and lemon juices, as well as Smoky Jamrock, featuring Johnnie Walker Black and Double Black, homemade Jamaican syrup—comprising white sugar, ginger and allspice—and fresh lemon juice.

“Scotch adds great depth to a cocktail,” says Orta. “The smoky notes in Johnnie Walker Double Black bring a complex layering to whisky-based cocktails, and play well with numerous flavors.”

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