Sunday September 9, 2012
Classic and old-fashioned
By MICHAEL CHEANG
Continuing the series on classic cocktails, our columnist samples some old-fashion whisky-based drinks.
WHISKY is one of the earliest spirits used for cocktails, and drinks such as the Mint Julep, Old Fashioned and Manhattan are amongst some of the earliest cocktails ever created and documented.
Unfortunately, while there is an extensive list of classic whisky cocktails to choose from, many of them were originally made using American bourbon or rye whiskies, the latter of which is rather hard to get in Malaysia. What we do have is an abundance of Scotch whisky, both in the blended and single malt categories.
With that in mind, I decided to rope in Glenfiddich regional brand ambassador Struan Grant Ralph to whip up a few classic whisky cocktails using Glenfiddich single malt whiskies, and to explain just how using Scotch instead of other whiskies in the cocktail changes the drink.
As a cocktail ingredient, Ralph reckons that whisky is one of the best and easiest spirits to work with especially compared to white spirits such as gin or vodka.
“With a vodka, for example, the flavours are quite slim, probably five or six, whereas with single malt whiskies, you can establish 80 to 90 flavours. Within the Glenfiddich range alone, there are so many flavours influenced by the different casks we use, the water and so on!
“As a cocktail ingredient, whisky offers so much more, and you can take your drink to any direction you want,” he said.
All the same, it is imperative that the bartender gets the balance between the flavours of the whisky and the other ingredients right.
“Balance is the key in cocktails. You need a strong aspect – the whisky. Then you need a weak aspect, which is the ice. Then you’ve got bitter, sour and sweet aspects, and you need to imagine all these factors while making it, and balance them.
“If you balance them you’ll always make good drinks. That’s why if you’re training a bartender on his first day, don’t teach him how to throw things around, just teach him about balance and taste,” he said.
According to Ralph, many of the classic cocktails were concocted by bartenders who had to work with what they had at the time, hence the reason most of the original recipes tend to use American whiskies.
“When you talk about a classic cocktail, you have to consider the era it was created, and what was available to the people who made it. Cocktails are designed with what people have at hand.
“For example, Prohibition-period cocktails used white spirits predominantly because that was all the people in America could make at the time! That was the real era of the mixologist, because the main challenge back then was: ‘How do you make a horrible tasting spirit taste nice?’” he explained.
“Today, it should be a lot easier to make world-class drinks because so many world-class spirits are available. The challenge now is whether the other components are up to scratch – is the ice good, are the mixers fresh, is the bar clean ...”
The five whiskies that Ralph chose for this article are classic drinks that you would expect to see on any list of classic cocktails. “I chose them because I think these are the best representations of what whisky cocktails are,” he said.
> All the cocktails featured here were made at Ben’s Bar at Publika, Kuala Lumpur, using Glenfiddich whiskies provided by Single Malt Sdn Bhd. Although he still prefers his whisky straight up, Michael Cheang does love an Old Fashioned cocktail every now and then.