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Whisky cocktails are the new ‘it’ spirits

Bartender and Monkey Shoulder brand ambassador Joe Petch is shaking up the world of whisky with innovative mixes

Joe Petch at a UK workshop.
Joe Petch at a UK workshop.

I refrain from referring to mixology when I meet Joe Petch. I’ve read enough about him to know he prefers calling himself a bartender. While the London-based bartender’s choice of professional nomenclature is classic, his work is anything but. Petch is a master of cool cocktails—think Bloody Mary Tomato Plants—and the global brand ambassador of blended malt whisky Monkey Shoulder, a role that sees him travelling the world. On his recent trip to Delhi, where he hosted the India finals of the Ultimate Bartender Championship 2018 by Monkey Shoulder, he whipped up a batch of Lazy Old Fashioned before sitting down for a chat with Lounge on new trends in whisky cocktails, and making single malts more fun. Edited excerpts:

How is the perception of whisky changing?

There’s a new generation of whisky drinkers who are looking for something apart from conventional stuff, and we need to engage with this audience and make single malts more approachable and fun. We’ve been told to drink single malts straight for 100 years. It’s going to take time to change the attitude—but it will happen quicker than you think.

Tell us about your introduction to Monkey Shoulder.

I was bartending when the brand launched in London in 2005—my colleagues and I instantly knew it was different. It was more down-to-earth than other whisky brands, from the price to the versatility of the blends. It was inclusive, but also disruptive in the traditional bagpipe-playing world of single malts.

What are the big trends in whisky cocktails?

The Old Fashioned is the planet’s No.1 whisky cocktail. But we see more and more people turning, especially in summer, to lighter cocktails. There’s a trend towards longer drinks (served in tall glasses). For instance, the American Bar at The Savoy Hotel, London (voted top among the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2017) serves a Monkey Shoulder cocktail with lapsang souchong tea, soda, some vermouth (Cocchi Barolo Chinato), and a caper on top.

Have you tried infusing cocktails with Indian ingredients?

Oh yeah. We made Monkey Shoulder lassi last year and even thandais, and recently tried adding gondhoraj lemons in cocktails. Bartenders in India are lucky to have access to so many amazing flavours. We have access to these ingredients too in Europe, but they are grown in glasshouses—the flavours aren’t as big and the ingredients aren’t cheap. The Indian and Asian spices and herbs growing here are so much stronger and aromatic.

What is the key to making a great cocktail?

It’s about balancing everything, sweet, sour, bitter, in the right proportion. It’s the bartender’s job to ask questions and balance the flavours to suit customers. You can’t give one recipe to everyone and expect them to like it. Bartenders are here to give you what you want, not what they think you want.

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