A glass of good old whisky is never boring, even if you take it neat or on the rocks. On the contrary, the attraction of drinking whisky has spread far and wide as more people spice things up with this brown spirit. So if you are a whisky person, you’ll try anything whisky-related, even if it’s whisky-based cocktails. And why not? If you love your whisky cocktails as much as you love your whisky, then you are in for a big treat.
Stay tuned as we reveal the best whisky-based cocktails, from classic to modern, for winter and summer.
History of Whisky
You don’t have to take your whisky too seriously to wonder about the who, what, when and where. Whether you are an avid whisky lover or occasional sipper, it’s good to know some facts to share over a dram next time you are meeting with friends.
A thousand years ago, travelling monks brought the process of distillation to Ireland and Scotland. At the time, the Irish and Scottish monasteries didn’t have grapes and vineyards. So, they fermented grain mash and made ingredients and drinks for medicinal purposes. The grain they used included barley, rye, corn and wheat. This is when and where the first distillation of of modern whisky occured.
A record in the Exchequer Rolls of 1494 shows that King James IV of Scotland sent a large amount of malt “To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aqua vitae.” “Aqua vitae,” or the “water of life”, was a general term used among Christians for all distilled spirits.
The First Distillery in the World
In 1608, King James I granted a license to a local landowner, Sir Thomas Phillips, to distil whisky in the River Bush area, Northern Ireland. He named it the Bushmills distillery. Today it’s quite a popular tourist attraction, seeing about 120 000 visitors yearly visit the first licensed distillery.
Taxes and Illegal Stills
When the Government imposed the first taxes on distilling, naturally there was an increase in illegal distilleries. By the 1820s, around 14,000 illicit stills were being confiscated every year in Scotland.
In Australia, distillation was legalised in 1820, and two years later, the first distillery was opened. Today, Australia has some of the best whisky producers in the world. Produced in much the same way that Scotch Whisky is made, and using single malt, blended whiskies, rye and wheat, Aussie whiskies have subtle differences, especially to taste.
Whisky Cocktails You Need To Try
Whisky cocktails have been around since the 1800’s, but there are three in particular that have stood the test of time. They may have evolved a little, but let’s go back to where they started with classic, original recipes.
1. Old Fashioned
One of the most popular cocktails in the world, the Old Fashioned, appeared in 1889 at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. An Old Fashioned contains Bourbon, sugar and bitters, but a traditional Old Fashioned tends to use Angostura bitters.
The use of Angostura bitters gives this classic cocktail a more spicy flavour with hints of clove and cinnamon. Using standard bitters will give the Old Fashioned more of a fruit or flowery flavour.
Regardless of what the bitters are, the combination of these simple ingredients creates a distinguished cocktail with a rich, smooth velvety taste. While it may just conjure up images of a man’s man relaxing on a big leather chair, smoking a cigar with “the boys”, this is a cocktail that broke free of this outdated stereotype decades ago.
Check out our Old Fashioned Cocktail Kit made with all Australian ingredients and use the stirring method to stir, strain and serve in an Old Fashioned glass over ice.
The original Sazerac recipe was Sazarac cognac, absinthe, Peychaud bitters, and sugar. It was the very first whiskey cocktail. The Sazerac Appearing in New Orleans in 1838, it was the first whiskey cocktails, created by the legend, Antoine Peychaud. The bitters that went into the drink were a family recipe, hence Peychaud bitters.
Nowadays, the recipe is a little different for a couple of reasons:
- Absinthe was illegal in the US from 1912 to 2007; people thought it made you hallucinate and go crazy.
- The phylloxera outbreak destroyed most of the vineyards in France.
Today the Sazerac cocktail is mainly made with rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud bitters, sugar and a lemon twist. Peychaud bitters gives the drink a hint of clove and orange. Because it is such a whiskey-forward cocktail, the key to a Sazerac is using good rye.
Oddly for a cocktail that was created in the heat of New Orleans, it is perfect for a chilly or rainy day. Sweet, spicy and herbal notes will make you want to curl up with a Sazerac and a good book.
The Boulevardier was invented in Paris for American writer Erskine Gwynne in 1927. It was derived from a Negroni, but the writer preferred Bourbon to gin, so voilå a new cocktail was created. Made with Bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari, it retains its Italian heritage but with an American twist.
When James Bond uttered those famous words “shaken not stirred”, he definitely wasn’t ordering a Boulevardier. If a cocktail has juice in it shaking is fine, but with a Boulevardier, you want it stirred. Stirring allows the ice to melt and cut the bite of the alcohol without making it cloudy from the shards of ice.
The Campari and vermouth give the Boulevardier a bittersweet taste, while the Bourbon brings a beautiful spiciness to it. Being a chilled whiskey cocktail, you can just imagine sitting on your deck chatting with friends as the summer sun sets. The warm, rich flavour making you feel so relaxed; does it get better than that?
It’s time to try something new!
Starward Nova Whiskey
Starward is an award-winning Australian whisky brand and distillery here in Melbourne. Their Nova is the star in our Old Fashioned cocktail kit and would be a great addition to your collection. Using Starward Nova whiskey in any of these cocktails will definitely up the flavour profile.
Starward ages their whiskey in casks that were once used for red wine. What does that mean? It means that they don’t need to add colouring to achieve that beautiful caramel colour. You will also get fruity and chocolate tones coming through, which makes it perfect on its own for pairing with rich foods.
This is not where the list of whisky cocktails ends. There is a plethora of these brown spirits for you to try. Just try not to drink through the entire list in one day!