GURU | Heather John on Whisk(e)y

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I've been taking serious notice of girls opting for Bourbon over Bordeaux from concerts to dinner parties, so I called in a favor from a friend for a lesson on Whisky (and Whiskey). Heather John is a freelance writer, the former wine & spirits editor for Bon Appétit (where we met), author of the fantastic blog The Foodinista, and an all around bad ass. Here she shares the straight dope on how to drink and order your scotch, rye, or bourbon. Thanks, H!

By Heather John

My favorite cocktail is a no-frills gin and tonic, which I’ll unfashionably and unapologetically drink well after Labor Day. But at the first hint of frost, I find that deep down I’m a brown liquor girl.

For the past seven years as the former wine & spirits editor at Bon Appétit magazine, I picked up a trick or two when it comes to whisky—and yes, that’s whisky without an “e” as in Scotch, Canadian or Japanese. For those of you who favor the Irish and American (bourbon, rye, Tennessee) versions, go ahead and spell it “whiskey.” We won’t tell.

Probably the debate I hear the most is about neat versus rocks. Ideally, the answer is: neither. Ignore the guys bragging about drinking their whisky neat because trust me, the distillers in Scotland don’t, especially when a whisky is cask strength—unless the goal is to burn your throat and taste buds. While ice cubes will melt and potentially dilute the drink too much, a small splash of water actually enhances the spirit’s flavors and aroma. If you’re at a bar, ask for a glass of water on the side so you can add to your liking. Your bartender will respect you, even if the punter in the leather armchair won’t.

There is one other school of thought, and here I fall in line with the Japanese, who are whisky fanatics (at a dinner in LA once with Suntory distiller Mike Miyamoto, he brought his own water from Japan to make ice for his whisky). Tokyo bartenders have delivered the following gift to the whisky world: ice balls. A large cube or ball of ice melts at a much slower rate, thus giving your drink a slight chill without watering down too much. I use this nifty Muji silicon ice ball maker.

While there are few things as satisfying as sipping Suntory Hibiki, Ardberg Supernova or Talisker 30 year at the end of the evening, I also love whiskey—and here it’s with an “e”—in cocktails, particularly alongside a grilled ribeye steak. Here are five favorite whiskey drinks and how to order them.

Manhattan. If you are in Brooklyn, your mustachioed mixologist will shoot you on sight if you order anything other than rye in a Manhattan. Best to keep the peace and request Rittenhouse, stirred and never shaken.

Old-Fashioned. Try a small-batch bourbon like Booker’s or a blended whisky like Canadian Club. (Or if you’re in Brooklyn, see above.)

Americana. Did I mention how much I love Campari? Here two loves collide by adding Pappy Van Winkle 10 year 90 proof to the classic Americano cocktail of Campari, club soda and orange bitters.

Sazerac. My friend Dave Wondrich, Esquire’s drinks editor, calls the Sazerac a “wonderfully butch sort of tipple.” He likes using either Pappy Van Winkle Reserve Rye or Sazerac Rye.

Whiskey Smash. Go for a higher proof whiskey like Wild Turkey to balance the sweetness of the simple syrup and the tart lemon juice in one of America’s oldest—and most delicious—drinks.

Do you drink Whisk(e)y? What's your cocktail of choice?
November 16, 2011 by Lizzie
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