Being a dedicated Scotch whisky drinker, I normally don’t do that well in summer. Traditionally, Scotch whisky is associated with cooler weather, and the past month here in London has not provided me with a suitable environment to sit around in a comfortable armchair with a dram, unless I’ve had a large fan pointed at my face. However, Scotch whisky is much more versatile than it’s given credit for – here’s how I’ve been surviving the summer in three easy steps:
1) Long Drinks
It may be blasphemy to some, but whisky is a great ingredient in long drinks. When it’s summer outside, you want something to slake your thirst and cool you down, and as long as you choose a whisky with a punchy-enough flavour, you can stretch things out without hiding its character.
My summer drinking kicked off on the summer solstice on 21 June. It was the longest day of the year and after an afternoon of rain, the clouds cleared and we had a long evening of summer sun. In true, decadent whisky-blogger fashion, I was on a Dalston rooftop drinking Highland Park cocktails. My favourite of the night was the simplest:
Fill a tall glass with ice, add the whisky, cordial and juice and stir. Top up with soda water and garnish with a lemon slice.
The sweetness of the elderflower and sourness of the lemon cancel each other out, and the soft smokiness of the Highland Park peeks out around the edges. One for warm evenings and hot afternoons.
2) Classic Cocktails
While the Prohibition-style cocktail obsession is (thankfully) starting to die down, I’m still a fan of the classics – simple, short drinks developed and popularised around the time that showcase a spirit rather than hiding it under layers of fruit juice or cream. American whiskeys are the most commonly used in my favourite recipes but Prohibition opened the door for illicit spirits imported from overseas, including Scotch whisky.
The simplest of the classics, although a drink that’s easy to make badly, is the Old Fashioned. It’s just three ingredients – spirit, bitters and sugar – but from those humble origins there’s a huge range of drinks you can create. Sticking with Scotch whisky, you want one that will stand up to being both chilled and diluted, as well as not get overtaken by the addition of sugar and bitters. I generally look for a punchy blended whisky, without the subtlety that will disappear when cooled and without too much spice, so the bitters add a flavour rather than amplifying something already present in the drink. Cutty Sark Prohibition fits the bill perfectly, beefing up Cutty’s regular easy-drinking style with more weight and a higher bottling strength of 50% ABV.
Rather than spending hours stirring an Old Fashioned – the standard way of making the cocktail and the reason why asking for one in a busy bar will earn you death stares from the bartender – I go for a much simpler approach. While I claim it’s because I like the way the drink changes as you work your way through the glass – starting strong and whisky-heavy, ending with rich spice – it’s really because I’m lazy…
Add the sugar and bitters to a tumbler with a little splash of whisky and stir it up until you get bored or the sugar dissolves. Fill the glass with ice, add the rest of the whisky and give it a quick stir. Drink slowly.
Cooling down whisky has a bad reputation. It does massively change the flavour and can kill the more subtle notes in a dram, but sometimes a cold whisky really works. While filling a glass with ice will cool things down, it will also dilute your dram and wreak havoc on single malt – many of them can take a good slug of water, but too much will ruin your whisky. Using a really large ice cube will reduce the amount of dilution, but that’s also not always what you want. Whisky stones (small rocks that you keep in the freezer and add to your drink) don’t dilute but they also don’t cool very well. This leads to a simple solution:
Keep your whisky in the fridge.
Freezing a whisky is going a step too far for me, but chilling a bottle down in the fridge before an evening of warm-weather dramming works perfectly. You need to choose the whisky well and one that’s been working for me this month is the recently revitalised Inchmurrin 12 – it’s very fruity and chilling doesn’t diminish that character, instead quietening the weightier notes. Here’s what I found when tasted straight from the fridge:
Nose: Creamy and fruity, with apple sauce, mango, pineapple and vanilla.
Palate: All of the fruit: sultanas, grapes, apples, pears, candied lemon, sweet mango and dried papaya. Hints of spice build as it warms in the mouth.
Finish: Short, with a hint of fruity sorbet.
In short: experiment. Scotch whisky can be great all year round, as long as you look outside of the more traditional approach to drinking it. Ignore the people who complain that you are destroying your dram – it’s your whisky, do what you want with it.