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The Art of Whiskey Cocktails: A Gateway to Neat Enjoyment by Derek King

For some whiskey enthusiasts, the journey to appreciating whiskey in its pure, neat form often begins with the exploration of whiskey cocktails. Heading straight for the jugular and attempting a sip on neat whiskey can provide a pretty unwelcome sensory overload-Enter whiskey cocktails!

At the heart of whiskey cocktails lies a very diverse range of flavours waiting to be discovered. Whether it’s the bold and robust notes of a bourbon, the delicate, fruity mellow profile of an Irish whiskey, or the deep dark fruitiness and complex character of a Scotch, whiskey brings depth and rich flavour to every drop. From woody undertones to hints of caramel, vanilla or stewed fruit each whiskey variety lends its unique personality to cocktails- It has the ability to  stand up and not get lost in the flavour circus! Here I will focus on keeping it local and talk Irish whiskey only 😊

 While some of my fellow purists may argue that diluting whiskey with any mixer takes away from its build, DNA and essence, sipping whiskey cocktails can actually serve as a very valuable stepping stone towards developing a deeper appreciation for whiskey in its pure state. A good hook in the vein if you will. And lets face it, not every occasion calls for a whiskey neat.- Don’t come for me!!

Whiskey cocktails, with their balanced blend of whiskey, mixers, and all the other wild and wonderful ingredients we see, offer a more approachable introduction to the world of whiskey flavours. By incorporating complementary elements such as sweet vermouth, bitters, or citrus, cocktails soften the intensity of whiskey’s raw character, allowing novice drinkers to gradually appreciate to its complex profile. 

Certain whiskey cocktails have stood the test of time, rarely not featuring on menus and revered for their elegance and simplicity. The Old Fashioned, with its blend of whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a twist of citrus, remains that staple I recommend to novice sippers before stepping onto the neat whiskey ladder. Similarly, the Manhattan, composed of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, oozes a sense of sophistication, while the Whiskey Sour dances on the taste buds with a perfect sweet and sour combination of whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. (Egg whites & bitters in the mix for perfection)

These iconic cocktails serve as the pillar to the appeal of whiskey in mixology. One cocktail that springs to mind instantly and has undoubtedly opened the door to curious sippers is the now called JGL (Jameson, Ginger and Lime) A highball style drink with Jameson, ginger ale and a squeeze of fresh lime..Whats not to love!?  Unquestionably the most simple serve but a huge volume driver for the Irish Distillers star student and one that has invited a new wave of whiskey advocates.

These cocktails typically contain a lower alcohol ABV than whiskey served neat of course, making them a nice hand holding introduction for those unfamiliar with the boozy delivery of undiluted spirits, particularly now in the cask strength movement we are experiencing in Ireland. As you gradually become accustomed to the alcohol sensation in boozier whiskey cocktails (Old Fashioned, Boulevardier, Manhattan Etc), your palate becomes a little more tolerant and receptive to the higher ABV of whiskey served neat. Over time, you’ll develop a greater appreciation for the intensity and complexity of whiskey’s natural unmasked character.

Understanding flavour combinations is very important. And now, more than ever we are lucky to have some of the best in the business doing the thinking for us.. Bars like 1661, Cask Cork, Three Storey and the Sidecar @ The Westbury with their extremely knowledgeable bar teams continue to push boundaries. I have mentioned before that credit goes to the great work of the brand representatives equipping bartenders with great knowledge week in week out. The innovation we are experiencing must be the most welcome gift from Irish distilleries to the great minds curating these sublime drinks lists.

Experimenting with whiskey cocktails provides an opportunity to explore the interplay between whiskey and various mixers, syrups, and garnishes. As you sample different cocktails, you’ll begin to develop an understanding of how different flavour components complement or enhance the qualities of whiskey and what to look for in the glass. This very enjoyable piece R & D will allow you to make informed choices when selecting whiskey for sipping neat, guiding you towards expressions that you prefer versus least prefer (No such thing as a bad whiskey 😉)

Getting into these great cocktail bars we have and sipping whiskey cocktails encourages a thought process around taste, aroma, and mouthfeel, as you start to break down each sip for balance and harmony. By fine tuning your palate through cocktail exploration, you become better equipped to pick apart the impact of whiskey in the cocktail and what to look for when enjoyed neat. You’ll notice subtle variations in flavour profiles, detect underlying notes of spice or fruit, and appreciate the lingering finish that differentiates one tipple from another.

To conclude, delving into whiskey cocktails can deepen your appreciation for the sheer craftsmanship  that goes into producing fine whiskey. As you explore different cocktails, cocktail bars and whiskey brands, you’ll develop an understanding of the distillation techniques, aging processes, whiskey style and how its maturation affects the end result. Whether enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in a meticulously crafted cocktail, whiskey remains a symbol of refinement and indulgence, inviting enthusiasts to raise a glass to the art of cocktail culture

 I’ve compiled my shortlist of the best whiskey cocktails I have had recently. Nice mix of highballs and stirred drinks, something for everyone.. Enjoy

  1. The Sidecar, WestburyThe Connoisseur- I love Teeling Blackpitts and this drink retains the great smokey character of the whiskey. Plantation rum, cherry herring, Drambuie, honey and absinthe rinse all making up the numbers. Boozy, dark and deep this is on the money for the peat fans. The Sidecar is the ultimate  backdrop for such an elegant drink. I mentioned in the past how amazing their Irish coffee is but this drink is absolutely up there. 
The Sidecar Whiskey Cocktail
  1. L Mulligan Grocer,Stoneybatter – Old Fashioned– A really nice addition to the house cocktail section of L Mulligans menu. In true LMG style they are keeping it local using Roe and Co whiskey as the base. Sweetened with brown sugar and a couple of dashes of beara pear bitters this is a great OF! Tried and tested and perfect before or after an amazing dinner here.
Whiskey Cocktails Old Fashioned L Mulligan
  1. Bovinity, Capel Street – The Dublin cocktail– A signature serve in Bovinity by Aaron Davis that incorporates both Powers Gold Label and Rye whiskey, macadamia nut, apple, lacto gooseberry and Irish honey with a blackberry mulled wine float. A very beautiful drink all things sour and smooth. Also extremely pretty to look at! The menu here is super varied and a very impressive selection but this is hands down one of the best whiskey drinks I have had in a long time!
The Dublin Bovinity Whiskey Cocktails
  1. The Merchant The Floral– At a recent Bushmills event I had the pleasure of enjoying this drink in the amazing Merchant hotel. Bushmills Caribbean rum is a fantastic whiskey that offers seriously good value. Malty backbone, sweet troipcal fruit and balanced spice-Just lovely!  The tropical molasses driven sweetness to this whiskey is really unique and the addition of yellow chartreuse, sauvignon blanc, citric acid and lemon bitters give an end result of a really dry vibrant highball. A really lovely focus on all things local in the bar which is very refreshing.
  1. Bar1661The Gibney –  No menu boasts as many whiskey cocktails with such variance. Aside from the fact 1661 remains the very best cocktail bar in the country its also amongst the best to enjoy a whiskey or poitin- Outrageous backbar on display. Having enjoyed the Gibney more than once its certainly my pick of the bunch. Top tier use of Redbreast 12 pot still, rum, pineapple, black cardamon, aromatised wine with oloroso and the cherry on top is its barrel aging carried out in the bar. Perfect drink, perfect place & a perfect experience.
Whiskey Cocktails The Gibney
  1. Cask, Cork – Rounders – A very very cool new menu has just dropped in Cask, Cork celebrating all things old school kids games-very cool! The menus by Andy and team are never short of very solid whiskey options and this one is no different. Give a try to “Rounders”. Another highball drink with West Cork Black Cask as the base, Pom’O, pea and lichen. I’m a big fan of West Cork Distillers and their Black Cask is a 4 year grain and malt blend with the final 12 months spent in heavily charred casks, a beautiful whiskey that is very present in this cocktail . Casks sister bar Paladar is a new addition to city  with a latin inspired cocktail menu- Well worth a visit to both on your next trip.
Whiskey Cocktails Cask Picture: Miki Barlok

Article: The Art of Whiskey Cocktails: A Gateway to Neat Enjoyment by Derek King

The Whiskey Journey derek king

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