With London Cocktail Week on the horizon, I can’t help but want to celebrate all things cocktail and all things whisky.
As part of that, I’ve spoken to Tom Walker, bartender at The American Bar at The Savoy, about a new menu of whisky cocktails featuring Dewar’s that Tom has designed called Dewar’s True Scotch Collection.
The pair-up between the bar and Dewar’s is a fitting one – Tommy Dewar spent over 20 years living at The Savoy (the longest-running guest) and The American Bar was his regular haunt.
In this interview, Tom discusses what he loves about developing cocktails, why he was inspired by Tommy Dewar and why he’s thrilled the public and media are embracing cocktail culture.
What has been the most interesting thing you’ve learned while creating these cocktails?
I guess it would have to be work ethic and tenacity that Tommy went through in promoting Dewar’s scotch whisky, on a global level definitely, and how clever it was to do that on both sides of the Atlantic at a time when blended scotch was just starting to become on vogue in the US.
There were small things like having the one of the first (and biggest) mechanical adverts in the world on the Embankment in London (not far from The Savoy), coupled with the first motion picture advert too, as well as Tommy’s residence in The Savoy for about 20 years or so, which made him one of the longest-running guests.
Why does a blended whisky, like Dewar’s, work well in cocktail making?
Blended whisky works well because it’s a gateway to other whiskies, both Scottish and those from other countries. It’s obviously one of the lightest styles of Scotches around and is definitely one of the most approachable, although it’s still a challenge to work into mixed drinks.
For me, Dewar’s is one of the lighter blends out there, compared to something like Johnnie Walker Black or Chivas 12, which are equally delicious in their own right and offer something a little different. The lightness of Dewar’s lends to basic and classic Scotch drinks really well, making the whole spectrum of that subject easier to approach and get on board with.
Some people are very anti-mixing whisky into cocktails. What would your response be to naysayers about why it’s a great spirit to use?
The attitude to whisky has definitely changed over the last ten years. I remember being on a tour in Islay about three years ago and coming across a chap called Ian who was the warehouse manager at Lagavulin. I remember him specifically saying that the enjoyment of scotch is entirely up to the person drinking it; if they want to have it with coke on the rocks, then let them have it. It doesn’t change the whisky, and, if anything, it might be the best whisky and coke they’ll ever have!
The enjoyment of scotch is the main factor here, not how it should be consumed. Scotch cocktails open up the floor to new people becoming involved in it, especially a younger audience, and I’m all for people getting enjoyment out of something more than the importance of traditional methods of consumption being adhered to.
What’s your favourite part about cocktail creation?
Good question…I guess the actual finished article usually. It takes me on average a couple of months for a drink to be completed from start to finish, including the name. The balance and the recipe are usually straight forward, it’s just the background and the name that takes a little longer. But once it’s completed and approved and liked by other people, it’s another weapon in your arsenal of being able to introduce something new to someone.
Why should someone come into The American Bar at The Savoy to try one of this collection?
The American Bar is steeped in history and has the addition of a bit of glitz and glamor with an Art Deco feel; we’re privileged to be in the age we’re in with regards to economics and with a good standard of living compared to 60 or 70 years ago. People should seize the opportunity for a little bit of escapism with us and do something that they wouldn’t usually do.
The drinks are an important part of our bar and our history; being able to share this with as many people as possible is an absolute privilege and something we try to do as much as we can, given the opportunity.
The Dewar’s True Scotch Collection is an example of a time when Tommy Dewar, our longest-serving and most famous resident, would have requested a similar style of drink when he stayed with us. Being able to have a slice of liquid industry in the modern day and age is something we’re proud to offer up and serve to our guests on a daily basis.London Cocktail Week is coming up soon – how important is it to celebrate cocktails?
Celebrating cocktails is an important occasion, but it’s no more important than celebrating with what comes along with the cocktails: free-time, relaxation, good times with friends and, from our point, the celebration of our industry and how it is slowly becoming respected and looked favorably upon by the general public and the mainstream press.
Things like the service and experience that surrounds cocktails is just as important for us to tell people about and celebrate too.
Want to try one of Tom’s cocktail creations at home? Here’s the recipe for his Raeburn Rickey: