Some like serving it neat, while others recommend ‘on the rocks’. And there is a group who would swear by the ‘body’ and ‘flavour’ that a splash of water brings out. Bartenders across the world are divided on their approach to serving whisky.
However, an overwhelming number among them would perhaps agree on the importance of whisky as the preferred base for their signature cocktails. Here are a few recommendations from some of the finest hands to have ever handled a bottle of whisky with élan.
Manhattan by Black
The iconic Manhattan is the first name on our list for obvious reasons. While the story goes that it was invented in the early 1870s at the Manhattan Club in New York (hence the name) at a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome (later Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill), this is probably an urban legend. The ‘king of cocktails’, as some would fondly call their favourite mix, possibly dates from a decade earlier, having first been mixed by a bartender by the name of Black at a bar near the Broadway.
As the reigning monarch of the V-glass, Manhattan continues to be a drink to reckon with. It is, however, a surprisingly easy concoction, requiring a measure of whisky (two to three parts), sweet vermouth (one part) and a few dashes of bitters (ideally, one). No wonder that most of the finest bartenders today would agree on its pre-eminence on their list of offerings.
While Manhattan is traditionally a bourbon-based mix, why not give it a twist with Jameson Irish or Seagram’s Canadian! However, if you want to stick to tradition, you can always count on Smooth Ambler!
Old Fashioned by Martin Cuneo
Coming in close on the heels of Manhattan is another bourbon cocktail with an equally interesting name, the ‘Old Fashioned’. Dating to 1881, the mixed drink (which even has a glass named after it) originated at the private The Pendennis Club in Louisville Kentucky. Created by the bartender Martin Cuneo, it honoured the prominent Bourbon distiller, Colonel James E. Pepper, who took it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. And from then on, being ‘old fashioned’ has been in vogue.
Old Fashioned is again a favourite of the bartenders for the simplicity of the mixology, which starts by muddling sugar with bitters, then adding whisky, and finally topping the glass with a twist of citrus rind. Adding a vintage like a dram of The Glenlivet 15 Year Old is sure to result in a memorable result.
Sazerac by Thomas Handy
From the glitz of the Manhattan, and via the old-fashioned town of Kentucky, let us now move to yet another darling of bartenders across the globe. Welcome to New Orleans, Louisiana, the home of the Sazerac.
Touted as possibly the oldest cocktail in America, Sazerac derives its name from the Sazerac de Forge et Fils, a French brandy that had originally served as the base for the mix. Its origins as a whisky-based mix can be traced to the 1870s, when the phyloxxera epidemic in Europe led to a brandy draught. Reimagined by Thomas Handy, the leading barkeep at The Sazerac Coffee House, the cocktail has, since then, continued to win an ever-growing fandom among the whisky lovers across planet.
To mix your own Sazerac, crush a sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass along with Peychaud’s Bitters, and add a favourite rye whisky like a J.P. Wiser’s. Coat another glass with Herbsaint, and drain. Empty the whisky/sugar/Bitters mix into the second glass and, and garnish with a lemon peel. Your Sazerac is ready!
While Black, Cuneo and Handy have passed into the pages of history, their immortal creations – the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Sazerac, continue to excite us to the endless possibilities of the ‘water of life’.