Perhaps I’m a bit slow on the uptake – scratch that. I am without a doubt a bit slow on the uptake, but I am also capable of getting into a rut without realizing it. In this case, it was a well-intentioned, and apparently well-ingrained habit of drinking my whisky neat, or at most with a splash of water. On the hottest days, I might subject a light whisky or a robust bourbon or rye to a single ice cube. But at no point did the idea of significant dilution figure into things.
The seed for experimentation was planted with a Twitter message from my virtual (only in the sense that we’ve only communicated online, rather than sitting down and enjoying each other’s company over good food and drink) friend Todd Abrams (@Swigs_ and well worth following), one of the very talented team behind the excellent Gourmet Underground blog (which grew out of his and Evan Hansen’s blog Swigs). After reading several cocktail posts (a subset of libations I’ve generally eschewed since an ill-fated freshman year experiment to drink our way alphabetically through Mr. Boston . . .), I asked Todd for a book recommendation or two from which to begin exploring cocktails. His response (paraphrased) made an immediate impact on my whisky drinking prejudice – there are no good books – you like whisky, so start experimenting there – Manhattans and the such.
Cocktails with whisky? But I only have “good stuff” that should not be drunk any way other than neat. So, I mentally filed away Todd’s advice (and kept a keen eye out for some decent sweet Vermouth to take up his Manhattan challenge). I did drop $50 on a bottle each of Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette and Luxardo to make a whole bunch of Aviations a la Swigs (the post which sparked my cocktail book recommendation question).
I did finally pick up a bottle of Dolin Sweet Vermouth, but haven’t gotten around to making a Manhattan yet. I did, however, see a tweet from someone I follow about them enjoying highballs lately (can’t remember who & searching for it didn’t work – let me know & I’m happy to amend the post to give credit!). With the warm late summer days, and not quite cool enough for neat whisky nights, this lodged somewhere in my brain. It was brought home when I was meandering the almost overwhelming whisky selection at the Wine and Cheese Place on Saturday. Guilt over the number of unfinished bottles of whisky in the basement prevented me from picking up a new bottle but my feeble brain did manage to remember to buy a bottle of club soda to run a highball experiment with some of the orphan bottles I had at home.
So, last night I dared to add club soda to whisky, and it was good. So far, I’ve tried it on two bottlings I haven’t poured a dram of in about a year – Arran Non-Chill Filtered (which I find a bit butyric straight up) and the SMWS bottle I got upon joining – a cask strength Auchentoshan that always seemed hot and a bit feinty. In highball form both were a hell of a lot better than any prior experience I’d had with them. Downright enjoyable in fact. I’m quite sure that had I not taken this step, these two bottles would have sat for years more on my shelf until I finally got sick of seeing them there and poured them down the drain. Being served with soda is undoubtedly a more noble fate than that!
Am I completely over my aversion to mixing things into whisky? No. But, I think the door is finally unlocked to some serious experimentation on my part. And I’m looking forward to it.