Smoky whiskey: Not just a really, really grown-up drink

I love smoke. So I also love smoky things, like bonfires and steam trains and Winston Churchill. And that means I also love smoky whiskey.

Ever since my brother first introduced me to Laphroaig, and then - soon after - Ardbeg (now my preferred choice, because it doesn't come with the anxiety of potentially mispronouncing 'Laphroaig' at a bar), smoky single malt whiskey has been my late-night tipple of choice.

Sipping on an old fashioned glass half filled with Ardbeg and a single large ice cube just brings to mind sophisticated conversation about the current political climate in front of an open fire at an exclusive gentlemen's club. And not, as was actually the case, two brothers fighting over who got the decent working PS3 controller before beginning yet another FIFA tournament.

At twice the price of a much cheaper, readily available bottle of whiskey though, the likes of Laphroaig and Ardbeg have also always had an air of superior quality about them for me. Yes, I know I'm only talking about £30-40 compared with the amounts that true connoisseurs are prepared to pay, but I'm not made of money. If I were, I wouldn't even be able to type these words about these things that I wouldn't be able to drink.

Anyway, my attitude to these higher-priced bottles meant that I started only to open them on special occasions and, when I did, only ever to sip them neat, for fear of diluting - and therefore wasting - this super-rare and mega-exclusive liquid.

But I have recently started to realise that a little bit of Islay whiskey (Islay being the Scottish Isle that is the home of both Laphroaig and Ardbeg and is what gives them their peatiness) can go a long way in a cocktail. Even just a pre-pour rinse of the glass can give the drink a smoky quality. And, as I think I may have mentioned, I like smoky things.

So by being a bit more flexible with my Islay whiskey, I get to enjoy ALL my drinks with a smoky quality. Even cups of tea. Probably.

Here are a few recipes for using Ardbeg proving that, sometimes, a really good whiskey can be utilised to make a really good other drink instead.

Decant About Decorum

1oz Ardbeg 10 Year Whisky
1/2oz Sandows Cold Brew Concentrate
1/4oz Punt E Mes
2 dashes Chocolate Bitters

Method: Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a small glass, with no garnish.
Here'a suitable drink I created in honour of one Burns Night. It's a slight riff on the Coffee And Cigarettes by Thomas Waugh, and one I named after a quote from the Robert Burns poem The Jolly Beggars: "Let them cant about decorum, Who have characters to lose!". So there you go - cocktails AND a poetry reference. This really is the drinks blog for the literary sophisticate.

Italian Heirloom

5 swathes of Lemon Peel
2oz Cynar
1/2oz Blended Scotch
1/2oz Ardbeg 10 Year Whisky
1 pinch of Salt

Method: Express the lemon peels into a shaker and drop them in. Then add all other ingredients and stir with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.
This recipe actually comes from a book called Beta Cocktails and was created by Maksym Pazuniak. That's right, just when you start to get used to cocktails only using drops of lemon juice, along comes a recipes that takes it one step further and asks for just the expressed oils from five lemon peels.

Smoky Banana Old Fashioned

60ml Bourbon
20ml Crème De Bananes
10ml Ardbeg 10 Year Whisky
1 dash Angostura bitters

Method: Stir all ingredients with ice in the glass and garnish with what is, in hindsight, a pathetically small slice of banana.
This is my new favourite formula for a flavoured Old Fashioned with a twist. A tiny amount of Ardbeg gives a smoky quality, while adding a flavoured liqueur gives the drink a whole new identity. Using the below quantities, I have also recently made a Smoky Peach Old Fashioned which was amazing, and a Smoky Lychee Old Fashioned, which was... um... less so.
So there we go. I look forward to exclusive gentlemen's clubs everywhere adopting their mature single malt whiskey brands for use in all manner of ostentatious cocktails.

Tags: Whiskey, Whisky, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Islay

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