Put Down the Scotch and Step Away from the Shaker

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

cocktail-scotchwhiskey.jpgDedicated lovers of Scotch whisky may wish to look the other way right now.

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In his "Shaken and Stirred" column in Sunday's New York Times, Jonathan Miles addresses one of the touchiest topics in mixology: the crafting of cocktails using single-malt Scotch. Miles writes, "As a Scottish proverb says: 'There are two things a Highlander likes naked, and one of them is malt whiskey.' But we New Yorkers are islanders, not Highlanders, and adulteration befits us."

Outraged purists aside, Scotch is already a very difficult spirit to mix. A handful of cocktails achieve success with blended Scotch—the Rob Roy, Cameron's Kick and Blood and Sand among them—but these victories are badly overshadowed by the failures. These losses can be seen in the cases of good whisky squandered in undrinkable concoctions that must have seemed promising at first, had it not been for Scotch's near-sociopathic inability to get along with others.

The distinctive, robust flavor of single malts exacerbates the challenge, and it's a challenge that Charlotte Voisey, brand ambassador at William Grant (parent company to Glenfiddich) rises to. For Shorty's.32, Voisey created the Sweet Solera, a mixture of Glenfiddich Solera Reserve, Lillet Rouge and Monin caramel syrup, garnished with a maraschino cherry. As Miles writes, "While the root beer-y sweetness of the Lillet Rouge and caramel blunt the rugged, smoky edges of the Scotch, the peatiness still comes rumbling through. It takes more than a cherry to tame a single malt."

I haven't tried a Sweet Solera myself—aside from the cherry, I have none of the ingredients on hand—but the idea of single-malt cocktails is certainly an intriguing one.

Where do you come down on the issue? Do you have a live-and-let-live attitude when it comes to mixing with single malts, or do you blanch at the very idea of pouring a Highland into a cocktail shaker?

Photograph from chipgriffin on Flickr