With the freezing weather hitting the UK of late, it inevitably increases the desire that I and (I’d guess) many others have in enjoying an extra dram or two to stay warm.
But, as I’ve discovered lately through my tasting of more blended whiskies, this cold weather does not only have to mean it’s time to do some drammage to your single malt collection. For whisky can be had in many forms – and the form I discovered on a snowy day of late was in using this seductive drink to make delicious cocktails that helped to keep my blood stream moving fast enough to shut out the chills.
On the top floor of China Town’s new Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour (a fab little joint put together by bar superstar Dre Masso), I joined two of the super cool chaps (Niran from Yin & Yang and Anthony from Ape to Gentleman) for a bit of cocktail masterclassery. Leading the charge was Phil Huckle, UK brand ambassador for Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet.
Over a starter of dim sum, Phil explained a bit about the brand, which dates back to the 1800s. While the bottle has the date 1801 on it, this does not reflect when the company started blending but rather when a luxury grocery store was opened in Aberdeen, the owners of which would go on to make the Chivas Regal blends. Known as the “Harrods of the Highlands” the store was the place to get high-end tea, coffee and foodstuffs in the northern region. In 1841, the store first started supplying Queen Victoria’s Balmoral estate with fine foods for her visits north. The company began making its own blended whiskies in the 1850s. Strathisla distillery in Speyside – which I wrote about, here, after a visit there last year – provides much of the whisky for the blends and the company is now owned by Pernod-Ricard.
It was, according to Phil, around the same time that Chivas started making blends that the golden age of cocktails began – primarily in the US but also in Paris and London. The Chivas blends became popular for use in cocktail making, he told us, and that is an idea that holds through to today.
“I think Chivas is a lot more versatile when it comes to the blends. You can pretty much make any whisky cocktail from it,” he said.
As a Speyside blend, one can understand why – its more delicate flavours fuse with various ingredients in cocktails in an unassuming manner that neither overwhelms the palate nor disappears on it.
After stuffing ourselves on dim sum, we stood back and watched Phil at work as he made six different whisky cocktails from either Chivas 12 or 18.
There were three classics to start: a powerful Rob Roy made with Chivas 12, followed by a Morning Glory Fizz (a delicious hangover cure from the late 19th century, also made with the Chivas 12) and the Blood & Sand made with Chivas 18, which dates back to 1923. All were delectable, but my favourite was the final one. Made from a combination of whisky, fresh orange juice, sweet vermouth (in this case, Antica Formula) and cherry Heering, the Blood & Sand is just the right side of sweet while still be refreshing and powerful. Named after the film of the same title starring silent film heartthrob, Rudolph Valentino, this cocktail is sure to get you feeling fresh and feisty, even when the temperature drops below freezing.
These were followed by three modern cocktails – the Regal Roy, Highland Cosmo and Gallantry. My favourite? The Highland Cosmo. While I normally shy away from the cocktail made famous by Sex & the City, I was drawn to this version because the Chivas 18 made it much richer with loads of thick texture.
So, how can you make these drinks at home if you’re feeling a bit too cold for comfort?
The recipes are as follows:
25ml Chivas 18
25ml fresh OJ
25ml sweet Vermouth
25ml Cherry Heering
Combine the ingredients in an ice filled cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain in cocktail glass and serve.
40ml Chivas 18
15ml fresh lime juice
Dash orange bitters
Combine the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain into cocktail glass and serve.