Sunday February 24, 2013
Black and gold
By MICHAEL CHEANG
Cocktails are all about flavours, something Johnnie Walker’s wide range of blended whiskies excels in.
WHEN it comes to flavours, Johnnie Walker is the king of the whiskies. Its range of “Labels” – at present they have (deep breath) Red, Black, Double Black, Gold, Platinum, and Blue – covers a diverse spectrum of flavours that make it perfect for the world of cocktails.
“If I were a bartender who wants to make whisky cocktails, then Johnnie Walker would be irresistible for me, because it gives me so many great base flavours to build some really complex drinks with,” said Tom Jones, the global brand ambassador for John Walker & Sons, the luxury collection from Johnnie Walker.
According to Jones, before Johnnie Walker founder John Walker started blending whiskies, people used to buy whisky in barrels, and were not specific about where they came from. “They accepted that they would be different, and that they wouldn’t be good sometimes,” he said. “Then, John Walker started tasting the whiskies and asking where they were from so that he could get the same whiskies and blend them consistently. So as you can see, Johnnie Walker has always been about flavour. And what do bartenders need to make a great drink? They need flavours!”
It is this diversity of flavours that will be highlighted at the upcoming Johnnie Walker Circuit Lounge party on March 23, as some of Malaysia’s best bartenders will be concocting drinks for partygoers using three very different blends: the well-balanced Johnnie Walker Black Label; the smokier Double Black; and lighter, creamier and honey-ish Gold Label Reserve.
“In previous years, we’ve had some really fantastic drinks being made with Black Label, but this year, we’ve also brought in the luxury brands like Double Black and Gold Label Reserve, hence the name change from ‘Black Circuit Lounge’ to just ‘Circuit Lounge’”, said Jones, who was in town to conduct a media tasting and cocktail making session at Twenty.One Tables + Terrace, Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur.
Three different drinks will be served at the party: the signature Circuit Lounge cocktail, which is a refreshing take on the classic whisky sour that uses Black Label, lemon juice, blackberry syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters; the Peat Perfect, which uses honey water and grapefruit juice to give a sweet and sour complexity that also helps ramp up the extra smokiness in the Double Black; and finally, the Fresh Gold, a glamorous, tangy cocktail that involves mixing lime juice, sugar syrup and Gold Label Reserve, and serving it in a champagne flute topped up with crushed ice.
“The great thing about these three cocktails is that anyone can enjoy them, and they are also relatively easy for one to get the ingredients and make them at home,” said Jones. “Many people don’t make cocktails at home because they are put off by the number of ingredients they have to buy. But these drinks can be made easily with ingredients that are easily available, so people can replicate them at home.”
Now, these drinks are new drinks that have been tailored specifically to bring out the flavours in each of the three different blends. But what if the Black Label, Double Black and Gold Label Reserve were to be used to make a classic like a Manhattan, or an Old Fashion?
Well, it depends really on how particular you are about your drinks. For instance, a Manhattan with Scotch is actually called a Rob Roy.
“I once walked into a bar and asked for a Manhattan made with Scotch, and the bartender corrected me. Yes, I know it’s called a Rob Roy, but I just prefer the name Manhattan!” he said with a laugh.
The classic Manhattan involves two parts bourbon whiskey, one part vermouth and a dash of bitters; but if you were to substitute the bourbon for one of Johnnie Walker’s whiskies, the result would be something completely different.
“With the Black Label, you’ll get some great sherry-like flavours, and some vanilla influences as well. If you used Double Black, then it would be a smokier version of the Manhattan,” said Jones, adding that the Double Black would probably make a better Old Fashioned than a Manhattan, because the smoky flavour is brought out by the dilution; and the orange zest and bitters would lengthen the whisky’s more citrusy notes.
With its toffee, nutty, creamier Highland-styled flavours, Gold Label Reserve would probably not work as well in a Manhattan, though Jones suggested an alternative way to drink it.
“I like to serve it in a larger glass, on crushed ice. Then I’d dip a bar spoon into runny honey, and quickly transfer it to the top of the glass by spinning the spoon really quickly so it flicks the honey around the glass. This creates a nice spun sugar effect, and when you drink it, it’s really nice, because the honey adds a bit of sweetness as you drink the whisky,” he explained.
Ultimately, the key to using Johnnie Walker in a cocktail is to get to know the whisky first before using it to mix drinks.
“It’s important to know the flavour of the whisky first, and then think about how you want to use it – either by using sympathetic flavours, or contrasting flavours,” said Jones. “You’ve also got to know what it is you have in your hands – the heritage of the brand and the skill and effort that’s gone into making it. Once you’ve realised that a guy has spent 30 years of his life blending for Johnnie Walker and getting the perfect blend of flavours into that bottle, then you’d treat the spirit with a lot more care and respect.”
The Johnnie Walker Circuit Lounge party takes place on March 23. For details, visit facebook.com/JohnnieWalkerMalaysia.
Michael Cheang once tried mixing five different Johnnie Walker blends into one glass to create a whisky rainbow. Just don’t ask him what it tasted like. Reader response can be directed to email@example.com