The Role of the Single Malt in a Modern Day Cocktail Bar

20 July 2013

Mitch Bechard, Glenfiddich Ambassador

Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador Mitch Bechard

At 18 years of age I had my first bartending job. It was a small family-run hotel in South Queensferry, Scotland. I remember the first drink I served being a vodka and orange juice for the owner, which I ended up short pouring. Needless to say, I kept my job as she was happy that I saved her some money. I then progressed to various bars and hotels in Scotland, Portugal and Australia during which I fine-tuned my hospitality skills along with learning the craft of the cocktail. I’m now twenty years on from that first gig in the family-run hotel and the only time I am now behind a bar is to train staff on the attributes of Scotch whisky. Compared to the modern day mixologist, I am not sure my cocktail making skills would be up to scratch. During this time I have seen a quantum leap in what is being done within the hospitality industry and that change has led to a shift in the role of Scotch whisky behind the bar. What was once an enigma to the bartender is now something they embrace and constantly strive to expand their knowledge on. Drinks now feature not only Scotch whisky but also American, Japanese and Irish. As a Scotsman, I take a lot of pride in that fact when I go into a bar and the Scotch whisky shelf is exploding with fantastic single malts—a common occurrence these days! No surprise when you look at the sales of Scotch, Irish and American Whisk(e)y which all enjoyed double digit growth in 2012.

Working for the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch whisky certainly has its advantages, the first of which is that I can go into most bars around the world and order a Glenfiddich. The other is that the delicate flavours of Glenfiddich lends itself very easily to a well prepared cocktail. Some may be reading this right now and cursing me. I can almost hear the cries of “it is sacrilege to add anything to a good single malt!” as I am typing this. I always say to people—drink Scotch whisky however you enjoy it, either neat, with water or ice. Don’t get me wrong, taking our spectacular 40 year old Glenfiddich, where we can trace some of its DNA back to being distilled at the Glenfiddich distillery on the 3rd July 1925, and adding some diet cola to it would be something I would never like to witness, but I have experimented with both the 12YO and 15YO expressions and trust me when I say it works.

When you look at the fascinating subject of Scotch whisky history, it is interesting to note that it was originally drunk flavoured with various herbs and often honey, so arguably we have been making Scotch whisky cocktails for a couple of centuries. We also have to remember that the rocks glass was originally shaped that way for people to drink scotch and soda, which was very much the way to drink it back in the early 1900s. One of earliest classic scotch cocktails comes from New York in the form of the fantastic Rob Roy. This includes the stirring of Scotch whisky with vermouth and bitters and is still one of the most commonly seen in bars today. America is credited with most of the classic scotch cocktails and is one of the most open markets I have seen with regards to experimentation when it comes to consuming this golden nectar. Someone who has been playing with Glenfiddich cocktails for awhile is my esteemed colleague, Charlotte Voisey. Charlotte is the Portfolio Ambassador within William Grant and Sons. Our schedules aligned recently for Aspen Cocktail Week where we had a chat about the subject. Her view on how single malts are evolving behind the bar relates to the fact that bartenders are no longer scared of experimenting with this liquid. “Bartenders love playing with the variety of flavours found within scotch, from the delectate fruity characteristics through to the heavily peated smoky style,” says Charlotte.

This is a view that is shared by Brian Summers, one of Los Angeles’ up-and-coming stars behind the LA bar scene. Speaking to him recently, Brian remarked that all sprits are now used in a different way behind the bar—a change that lends itself very well to single malt. A sentiment that I know is echoed by top bartenders around the world today is put very well by Brian, “Instead of trying to cover up the taste of ethyl alcohol, cocktails are meant to beautify or enhance the inherent flavours of a spirit. Single Malt, with all of its elegant and complex character, and the long and painstaking journey to acquire said character, has no business in a cocktail meant to mask it or cover it up. However in the right setting, single malt is an extremely versatile and flavourful ingredient.”

Mitch Bechard at the bar

When I think about William Grant building the Glenfiddich distillery, his seven sons and two daughters helping, I wonder what he would say about his liquid that he had the foresight to call “The Best Dram in the Valley” getting shaken, mixed and muddled with other ingredients then served in bars in all around the world. I would like to imagine that being the pioneer that he was, he would raise his glass and say “Sláinte Mhaith” while enjoying one of these delicious creations below.

Clear Thoughts With Speyside

 - 3 parts Glenfiddich 12YO

 - 1 ½ parts fresh lemon juice

 - 1 part Green Chartreuse

 - 1 part orgeat syrup

 - 2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Created by Brian Summers

 

Blood & Sanguinello

 - 4 Marasca cherries 

 - 1 ½ parts Glenfiddich 12YO 

 - 1 ½ parts Solerno 

 - 1 ½ parts Lillet Rouge 

 - 1 part pink grapefruit juice 

 - ½ part fresh lemon juice 

 - 2 dashes orange bitters 

 - Muddle cherries, add other ingredients and shake well

 - Double strain into a chilled coupe

 - Garnish with an orange twist

Created by Charlotte Voisey 


Great cocktails start with responsible measuring.

At 18 years of age I had my first bartending job. It was a small family-run hotel in South Queensferry, Scotland. I remember the first drink I served being a vodka and orange juice for the owner, which I ended up short pouring. Needless to say, I kept my job as she was happy that I saved her some money. I then progressed to various bars and hotels in Scotland, Portugal and Australia during which I fine-tuned my hospitality skills along with learning the craft of the cocktail. I’m now twenty years on from that first gig in the family-run hotel and the only time I am now behind a bar is to train staff on the attributes of Scotch whisky. Compared to the modern day mixologist, I am not sure my cocktail making skills would be up to scratch. During this time I have seen a quantum leap in what is being done within the hospitality industry and that change has led to a shift in the role of Scotch whisky behind the bar. What was once an enigma to the bartender is now something they embrace and constantly strive to expand their knowledge on. Drinks now feature not only Scotch whisky but also American, Japanese and Irish. As a Scotsman, I take a lot of pride in that fact when I go into a bar and the Scotch whisky shelf is exploding with fantastic single malts—a common occurrence these days! No surprise when you look at the sales of Scotch, Irish and American Whisk(e)y which all enjoyed double digit growth in 2012.

Working for the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch whisky certainly has its advantages, the first of which is that I can go into most bars around the world and order a Glenfiddich. The other is that the delicate flavours of Glenfiddich lends itself very easily to a well prepared cocktail. Some may be reading this right now and cursing me. I can almost hear the cries of “it is sacrilege to add anything to a good single malt!” as I am typing this. I always say to people—drink Scotch whisky however you enjoy it, either neat, with water or ice. Don’t get me wrong, taking our spectacular 40 year old Glenfiddich, where we can trace some of its DNA back to being distilled at the Glenfiddich distillery on the 3rd July 1925, and adding some diet cola to it would be something I would never like to witness, but I have experimented with both the 12YO and 15YO expressions and trust me when I say it works. 

When you look at the fascinating subject of Scotch whisky history, it is interesting to note that it was originally drunk flavoured with various herbs and often honey, so arguably we have been making Scotch whisky cocktails for a couple of centuries. We also have to remember that the rocks glass was originally shaped that way for people to drink scotch and soda, which was very much the way to drink it back in the early 1900s. One of earliest classic scotch cocktails comes from New York in the form of the fantastic Rob Roy. This includes the stirring of Scotch whisky with vermouth and bitters and is still one of the most commonly seen in bars today. America is credited with most of the classic scotch cocktails and is one of the most open markets I have seen with regards to experimentation when it comes to consuming this golden nectar. Someone who has been playing with Glenfiddich cocktails for awhile is my esteemed colleague, Charlotte Voisey. Charlotte is the Portfolio Ambassador within William Grant and Sons. Our schedules aligned recently for Aspen Cocktail Week where we had a chat about the subject. Her view on how single malts are evolving behind the bar relates to the fact that bartenders are no longer scared of experimenting with this liquid. “Bartenders love playing with the variety of flavours found within scotch, from the delectate fruity characteristics through to the heavily peated smoky style,” says Charlotte. 

This is a view that is shared by Brian Summers, one of Los Angeles’ up-and-coming stars behind the LA bar scene. Speaking to him recently, Brian remarked that all sprits are now used in a different way behind the bar—a change that lends itself very well to single malt. A sentiment that I know is echoed by top bartenders around the world today is put very well by Brian, “Instead of trying to cover up the taste of ethyl alcohol, cocktails are meant to beautify or enhance the inherent flavours of a spirit. Single Malt, with all of its elegant and complex character, and the long and painstaking journey to acquire said character, has no business in a cocktail meant to mask it or cover it up. However in the right setting, single malt is an extremely versatile and flavourful ingredient.”  

When I think about William Grant building the Glenfiddich distillery, his seven sons and two daughters helping, I wonder what he would say about his liquid that he had the foresight to call “The Best Dram in the Valley” getting shaken, mixed and muddled with other ingredients then served in bars in all around the world. I would like to imagine that being the pioneer that he was, he would raise his glass and say “Sláinte Mhaith” while enjoying one of these delicious creations bel