Before I knew it, it was my turn to step up and take my place behind the bar. Butterflies start fluttering around my stomach when my eyes first catch sight of all the tools and ingredients I’d need, the bucket brimming with chunky cubes of ice beneath the bar and glasses set out on top. The butterflies soon disappear though as the sheer thrill of mixing my own whisky cocktail for the first time kicks in.
There’s lots of different ways to enjoy whisky, and as it’s Whisky Month, some colleagues and I decided to go along to a bespoke masterclass at Bon Vivant’s Companion in Edinburgh to discover the art of making a fine whisky cocktail.
Scott – the manager at the Bon Vivant next door, one of the capital’s most popular bars – showed us the ropes with his colleague India in the special event space they have in the shop cellar.
After first demonstrating how to make the classic ‘Whisky Sour’ – made here with Monkey Shoulder, a great blended whisky from Scotland – Scott gets us up one by one to for a hands-on demonstration.
Once Hayley had finished making an ‘Old Fashioned’ – a classic made by stirring bourbon, gomme and bitters together and served with an orange twist – it was my turn to make a ‘Penicillin’, a lovely sharp, smoky cocktail. As a lover of peated whiskies, this is perfect for me.
Having carefully measured out whisky and lemon juice in a jigger, emptying each in turn into a Boston shaker, Scott instructs me to use the specially prepared ginger and honey gomme. This drink is definitely one I would try making at home.
Next on the list however is a short squirt of egg white. After years of working in bars, India and Scott have seen their fair share of people recoil in horror at the sound of raw egg in cocktails but, as they explained, it’s actually tasteless in the drink and is only really used to give it silky, frothy finish on the top.
With the addition of a liberal amount of ice cubes to the mixture, it’s time to use what upper body strength I have to shake it all together. With a vigorous rattle, I can hear the ice doing its work to really cool the drink down.
Double strained into a glass with ice, all that’s left is some candied ginger to garnish and a glug of Islay single malt whisky to float on top. It’s a magic drink, if I do say so myself.
Aside from the ‘how to…’ demonstrations, it’s interesting to find out from India and Scott more about the job as a mixologist. They clearly know their stuff and are really passionate when they’re talking about flavours.
I think most people will have tried any number of rum, gin or vodka cocktails like Martinis, Cosmpolitans, Mai Tais and Manhattans. What’s interesting to learn is that whisky cocktails are still a growing trend – using single malt whisky, in particular, is only a recent development.
If you’re new to whisky though, it can be a fun and accessible introduction to Scotland’s national drink, as my companions found out…
“I found that drinking whisky in cocktail form was really good for a beginner’s palette like mine. I think I definitely like whisky now and have a better appreciation for the different whisky tastes; from Scotland and beyond. I really enjoyed tasting different whiskies for the first time and learning to appreciate the different smells, textures, balances and combinations that work together to make an amazing cocktail.” – Annierose
“The whisky cocktail making class was a great experience and I’m already looking forward to putting the knowledge and skills of how to mix whisky into cocktails into practice to bring out the number of flavours; from fruity to smoky.” – Aldona
“My highlight was learning how to make my favourite cocktail – an ‘Old Fashioned’. I’d always thought it too complicated to try at home, but Scott broke the process down into simple steps and gave us some really helpful preparation advice. I particularly liked his tip about dissolving the sugar– a key ingredient in an ‘Old Fashioned’. It really simplified the preparation and the end result was delicious!” – Hayley