sort of like tattooing an Audrey Hepburn or a
Whisky. In some respects the cocktail argument is whether to add a cube of ice (
possibly), water (sparingly), soda water (never).
While the sales of speed-well scotch (what you
get when you are not specific) continue a long
slow decline, the sales of 12-year-old, and older, blends and single-malt whiskies continue to
soar. In fact, a shortage of age-statement malt
whiskies has begun; non-specific-age blends
are becoming an economic reality, though
not fully accepted by the consumer—yet.
Strangely, given such a conservative consumer,
cask finishes—where the whisky is aged for
a final period in a cask that previously held
another distinct spirit or wine—is seen as a
valid “expression” of the distillery.
The whiskeys of America, Canada (whisky)
and Ireland have just taken off. The mixability,
certainly of the last two, has helped them gain
a younger consumer base. The distillery bar,
like the brew pub, is a growing phenomenon
with whiskey flights preferred over rounds
of beer. Old favourites are being explored,
discovering the difference, for example, in a
manhattan (⅔ whiskey, ⅓ sweet vermouth)
made from a true rye whiskey—while Canada
makes rye whisky, most of it is used in blends
made from other grains—or from a sour
mash ( Jack Daniel’s) or a whiskey made from
wheat (Elijah Craig) or corn. On top of that
the whiskey makers are following the vodka
market with flavours. Honey ( JD and Jim
Beam), maple (Crown Royal, of course) and
cinnamon are the current leaders.
Bitters and vermouth. Angostura Bitters
has long been the bartender’s friend, similar to
the close relationship between a chef and salt.
Like salt, it can draw out new perspectives in
flavours or bring a recipe to a round completion; it can also dominate the drink’s core.
To be treated as a true tincture of essential
essences. A number of new bitters are coming onto the market and some enterprising
mixologists are creating their own alchemy.
(Buyer beware—delight and despair aren’t
that far apart!) Vermouth, in a way, is a tepid
bitters and one that can easily be enjoyed on
its own. Wine based, with herbal and bark
infusions, the dry (white) turns a vodka or gin
Tequila. We all have our entry-into-adulthood stories about tequila; ‘nuff said.
The recent move to super-premium status has
essentially focused on two aspects of quality,
control and choice. Multiple distillations can
carefully remove the harsher alcohols from the
distillate; various fermentation methods can
add complexity to the flavours; aging in select,
old or new casks can soften and again bring
new dimensions. While brands like Patron can
be sipped by themselves, they can also add a
twist to a caipirinha or a daiquiri, or replace
the gin in a negroni (equal gin/Campari/sweet
vermouth, stirred in ice-filled glass, decorated
with orange slice).