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Forget Dalgona, stir up a whisky cocktail

On World Whisky Day, Lounge explores ways to play up your bourbons, Scotches and single malts

Add an orange slice to your cocktail for that fruity punch
Add an orange slice to your cocktail for that fruity punch (Photo: iStock)

In the beginning of the lockdown, all the beer picked up during the last booze run was the first to finish. Then it was the turn of white spirits like vodka and gin—especially the latter, which lends itself so well to summer cocktails. And finally, people started reaching out for the bourbons and Scotches, squirrelled away at the back of the liquor cabinet, says Karina Aggarwal, founder of Gigglewater Beverage Concepts, a company that offers drinks-related consultancy services to bars, restaurants and brands. This might explain why social media has seen a sudden rise in interest in whisky cocktails—from the classic Old Fashioned and whisky sours to Manhattan.

Move over Dalgona coffee—whisky cocktails are trending now.

Karina Aggarwal making a Boulevardier on an Instagram live video.
Karina Aggarwal making a Boulevardier on an Instagram live video. (Photo: Karina Aggarwal)

Aggarwal has been creating whisky cocktails with a creative twist on her Instagram page @gigglewater411. Last weekend, during an Instagram Live, she made an offbeat Boulevardier. A traditional Boulevardier is a blend of American whiskey, sweet vermouth and Campari garnished with an orange peel. She halved the quantity of vermouth and introduced Disaronno, a bitter almond liqueur, for an unexpected punch of nuttiness. The classic recipe would also have rye whiskey as the base spirit but Aggarwal had run out of it and picked a sweet style bourbon called Four Roses. She didn’t have fresh orange either, so she used grapefruit zest and inserted a dehydrated orange slice into the glass for flavour and an artistic touch.

The one significant lesson was that if you can’t recreate a classic drink in the absence or short supply of ingredients, do not hesitate to experiment. First-time cocktail makers begin with the classic recipe, and after a couple of trials, start improvising. Introducing a personal spin has, in fact, become a popular practice during the weeks of lockdown.

“More than any other recipes, I have been asked about whisky cocktails. Those can be a little daunting for first-timers," says Aggarwal. Additionally, she highlights three specific reasons—if you are living with someone who is not a whisky fan, making cocktails to mask its strong flavour is a way to include them; millennials who were used to bar experiences now want to recreate cocktails at home to experience the thrill of trying something new and fun; and finally, there’s time to experiment.

Aggarwal’s Instagram content featuring cocktails has been generating steady engagement, given the curiosity about trying out different kinds of food and drinks at home. During the lockdown, she posted about five recipes for sours, using whisky as well as other spirits like Goan cashew feni.

“A bartender imagines a cocktail before making it," says Yangdup Lama, founder of Sidecar in Delhi and Cocktails and Dreams, Speakeasy in Gurugram. Lama, whose bartending career spans 25 years and who runs a mixology academy, has a simple principle: “A good cocktail is the one that you enjoy drinking." Say you have an affinity for spices and have envisioned a drink with a hint of cinnamon. Make it, sip it, adjust quantities if needed and perfect it. It’s a formula of sorts. Lama has been actively sharing cocktail-making wisdom and recipes on his Instagram profile @thespiritedmonk.

He presents an unusually simple Whiskey Ginger Ale cocktail on a live video. In a tall glass, he pours 45ml Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, drops three spherical ice cubes, tops off with ginger ale and finishes with fresh orange peel. Jim Beam can substitute Wild Turkey 101 if the latter is unavailable, he says about the cocktail, a spin on the summer-appropriate drink highball. Depending on your taste preference, Lama suggests adding ginger juice or inserting a sprig of mint leaves (after gently slapping it between your palms to release flavour) or garnishing with fresh thin apple slices for a fruity upgrade—“the idea is to bring some happiness."

About two weeks ago, when the ban on alcohol was lifted partially, people replenished their home bars with whatever was available. Certain whisky categories, however, witnessed greater demand. “While it is too early to comment, we saw a spike for Glenfiddich Single Malt Whisky, Monkey Shoulder Premium Blended Malt Whisky, Grant’s Triple Wood Blended Scotch Whisky, including our aged variants like Glenfiddich 15 and 18," says Payal Nijhawan, head of marketing at UK-based distiller William Grant & Sons India. Consumers, she says, were more inclined to stock up on their favourite brands for the occasional treat and virtual connections with friends.

Nijhawan is optimistic about the post-covid future of whisky culture and predicts people will upgrade and experiment with their drinks. “We will see more people making whisky drinks at home and consuming their favourite brands in very small groups."


Mixologists go digital

New-age bars were places where guests could interact with bartenders. A good cocktail experience would often involve concocting drinks beyond the menu, based on a discerning consumer’s preference.

During the lockdown, consumers have moved online to interact with their favourite mixologists and drinks experts. Apart from @thespiritedmonk and @gigglewater411, you can follow Tanvi Rustagi (@thewhiskyworks) for a low-down on whiskies from around the world, Uday Balaji (@thewhiskyadvisor), who hosts online whisky sessions for select groups, and Nitin Tewari (@mr.bartender), who gives a fun twist to cocktails with a jugaad series. Check out his whisky cocktail Jugaad Old Fashioned on an Insta video.

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