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Scotch and Scotch highballs

I’ve noticed that Scotch brands have, over the years, slowly been taking advantage of the ever-growing cocktail trend. I am a cocktail and spirits geek and potentially may not end up sounding so open-minded with my verdict.

As a huge fan of classic cocktails, and as someone who comes from a country whose culture has and still is heavily influenced by America. Using Scotch in recipes of classic whisky cocktails is unusual for me. In my mind, classic whisky cocktails like the Whisky Sour, the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned call for either Bourbon or Rye. It also doesn’t help my frame of mind that the cocktail resurgence is mainly attributed to Dale Degroff, who is American. The cocktail bars like PDT, Milk & Honey/Attaboy and Death & Co, which I kept hearing about during my early days of getting into cocktails, are also in America.

Diageo’s global cocktail competition, World Class, is the best example I can give. World Class isn’t just about whisky as it involves brands of their other spirits like Tanqueray gin and Don Julio Tequila. I heard one round of World Class in America, involved participants making a Tiki drink with Talisker or one of their single malts. To those unfamiliar with Tiki cocktails, the recipes mostly call for rum. But a few recipes like the Honi-honi and the Fog cutter, call for Bourbon and gin. In Manila and other Asian cities, which have a growing cocktail scene, the big Scotch brands have been promoting their blends and more affordable single malts to be used in cocktails. I’ve even seen Edrington sponsored events and videos of the overly pretentious and prestigious Macallan being used in cocktails.

I haven’t forgotten that the alcohol industry is a business. But it sounds like the brands are just taking advantage of the trends for the sake of numbers. Where does one draw the line between selling out and adapting? Before single malt became a big trend, Blended Scotch was seen as the high-class drink. Now, blends are usually wrongfully dismissed by most as an inferior drink. Has the perception of blends fallen so hard that the brands have mostly relegated the entry-level skus as mixers and well drinks?

Riding a James Bond image who, at the same time, wildly makes and serves shots of Scotch cocktails, to me, sends a confusing message. We are told we can drink what we buy in whatever way we want. But some of the advertising tells us otherwise. How do the brands really want the market to perceive their products? I wonder what kind of predictions the big boys made? The stereotypical, prestigious and pretentious image of single malt, will be affected, when promoting Scotch in sponsored menus of world’s best bars doing guest shifts.

One might think I’m not in favor of Scotch in cocktails. But I absolutely love modern classics like The Laphroaig Project and the Penicillin, which use Scotch. I just don’t like ideas and trends when they seem forced. In my opinion, you just don’t mess with the classics. To me, using Scotch to make a Whisky Sour, which traditionally calls for Bourbon, and calling it a whisky sour is similar to using ham in a Pastrami sandwich and calling it so instead of using pastrami beef. Yes, Scotch and Bourbon are both whisk(e)y, but they’re not the same. Just like pastrami beef and ham are both meat, but they’re not the same kind meat. For all their clever marketing, is it that challenging to think of a new name for a Whisky Sour that uses Scotch? I mean, an equal part mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth is a Negroni. But replace the gin with Bourbon and it’s a Boulevardier.

One Scotch cocktail trend I won’t complain about, is the resurgence of the whisk(e)y highball. This may be mistakenly thought of as a Japanese invention. But the earliest records of Scotch highballs came about in 1890. While the Japanese highball only came about in the 1950s. It makes for an absolutely light and easy drink. Aside from a porter or stout, I’d choose a whisk(e)y highball over beer any day.

Please note that soda water isn’t the only thing you can use to make a highball. Any liquid with effervescence like tonic water and soft drinks mixed with a spirit can be called a highball. The highball trend may have gotten more traction as parts of the industry have been advocating a healthier lifestyle. Thus, the start of a low-abv movement. Other cocktails like Campari’s Americano and Aperol Spritz are being marketed more and are being received better.

For this article, I’m going to review Diageo’s Copper Dog and William Grant’s Glenfiddich 15 neat and in a highball. Highball specs are 2 oz of whisky diluted by 5 oz of Singha soda water. I used a highball glass with 4 1×1 cubes of ice.

Copper Dog – review

Bottled at 40% strength, this is widely available including from Master of Malt for £27.99, Amazon will also charge £27.99, while The Whisky Exchange will request £29.95.

Color: amber.

On the nose: I immediately think of apple pie. But heavy on cinnamon and cloves. The apple scent is more subtle. After it, I get some more hints of orange peel, lemon peel, burnt orange peel oil, vanilla and honey.

In the mouth: I initially get bitter notes like cloves, cinnamon, black tea and burnt orange peel. The apple taste is a lot shorter and weaker. I get more orange jam, lemon, honey, vanilla and hints of marzipan.

Conclusions

I can see this being a lot better if bottled at a higher abv. There is nothing unpleasant about this. But the flavors are just too light and don’t stick around which make this boring and forgettable.

Copper Dog, despite having been available in the international market for a few years, is just very new to the Philippine market. Oh, the woes of living in a 3rd world economy that’s always playing catch up to anything new. I see this as Diageo’s answer to William Grant’s Monkey Shoulder. As both are blended malts and both are being marketed as Scotch highballs, in the local market at least.

How does this compare to the Monkey Shoulder? I don’t know as I haven’t had it in a long time. I think the last time I had one neat was before it was reformulated.

Score: 4/10

Copper Dog Highball: a very short yet consistent burst of sliced and browning fuji apples sprinkled with cinnamon powder and cloves. Hints of Sapodilla appear at the end. Of course, as the highball dilutes, the whisky flavors weaken. But these are what I got.

Glenfiddich 15 year old – review

Bottled at 40% strength, this release is widely available, including from The Whisky Exchange for £43.45 and Amazon will charge £34.

Color: chestnut

On the nose: A mellow and pleasant greeting of tart and semi-sweet scents. I get caramelized apples, plums, strawberry jam and green apples. Behind the fruits are sweeter alternating scents of caramelized nuts, honey, dark chocolate, coffee and toffee.

In the mouth: Like on the nose, it’s semi-sweet and tart but less fruity. Caramelized apples, browning fuji apples, strawberry jam, cherry jam and toffee. Hints of short and alternating tastes of cinnamon water, honey, toffee, figs, dark chocolate and coffee. But the chocolate and coffee here are more pronounced compared to on the nose.

Conclusions

One of the best recommendations one can give to someone looking to get into Scotch. I’ve always been a fan of the Glenfiddich 15. It’s a readily available, very affordable ($50 locally) and good quality single malt that comes with a great age statement. But I still have to get used to the idea of using a well-aged whisky in a highball.

Score: 6/10

Glenfiddich 15 Highball: More tart fruits upfront. Hints of strawberry, ripe plums, hints of sultanas, chocolate cherries, dates and mocha at the end. I expected this to be somewhat lacking as I’ve only tried this highball with garnishes of cloves and anise. But this came out pretty well with just a highball.

If I were to choose between drinking this or the Copper Dog both neat and as highballs, I’d choose Glenfiddich 15 for both any day.

We have a couple of commission links within this article. Such things don’t influence our opinion and only ensure we bring you more Malt every day.

John
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Alex
    Alex says:

    Always thought provoking John, I’ve been enjoying highballs myself recently – we’ve had 35 celcius temps in the last few weeks at times, so they’re nicely refreshing.

    Glenfarclas 15 has worked well, Laphroaig 1815 with a twist of lemon, and loads of blends too. I doubt my measures are 2oz though!

    Cheers
    Alex

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for commenting.
      Yeah. I usually go through my unwanted whisky stash during summer via highballs. A drink that’s easy to make and goes down easily too. I can mindlessly drink it while doing other things.

      I’ve never had Farclas in a highball. Idk when that will happen as I dont intend to buy anything from them in the near future. I’ve had a Laph 10 highball and it was gooooood. My favorite is a Teachers highball even though I’ve only had it once.

  2. Avatar
    Justin says:

    I’ve gotten into highballs using the mizuwari ritual/method. I’ve done everything and truthfully what makes it special is hibiki with the sweet fruit finish. Harmony, which I don’t love, makes amazing highballs.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Justin, what is the mizuwari method? I may have seen it but just don’t know what it is called. Is it the using of one long ice and the slow addition of soda water as if you’re pouring a beer?

      Suntory blends make great highballs. I might just do a Japanese highball review next time.

      1. Avatar
        Justin says:

        Add ice to collins glass
        Stir with barspoon for 30 seconds to chill glass, discard water from glass
        Pour in whisky
        Stir 13.5 times clockwise
        Add in sparkling water
        Stir 3.5 times clockwise
        Add a lemon twist and enjoy

  3. Avatar
    Justin says:

    I’ve gotten into highballs using the mizuwari ritual/method. I’ve done everything and truthfully what makes it special is hibiki with the sweet fruit finish. Harmony, which I don’t love, makes amazing highballs.

  4. Avatar
    TheWhiskySleuth says:

    Your notes for the glenfiddich 15 are exactly as I remember them! Which prompted a recent purchase from a supermarket one weekend. A new style of packaging too, and not what a disappointment! Maybe I’ve just moved on, but I could swear it used to be really surprisingly delicious for a 40% whisky and great value too. Maybe the curse of the repackage has struck again. My go to highballs are usually with ginger ale and something slightly peated. Talisker dark storm I’ve found makes the best accompaniment with spiced orange ginger ale and a twist of orange.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Sleuth,

      I agree that Fiddich 15 has great value. It boggles the mind that WGS repackaged the Fiddichs twice in a span of 2 years? I don’t know what their reasoning was for that. Once, I get but twice seems insecure.

      I haven’t done a highball with ginger ale in a long time as I’ve been trying to consume less sugar. But I might just do that to Ardbeg 10.

  5. Avatar
    Jon says:

    John I always enjoy your write ups and I’m now craving a highball which I haven’t had in years. My dad was a highball guy. Can’t really knock him though as he worked with his hands and a whisky neat probably isn’t idea after a long day of physical work. He used 7UP and had the common decency to only use Old Smuggler and Clan MacGregor.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Jon,
      Thank you for the kind words. Isn’t it amazing that a very good and easily enjoyed drink is something we take for granted? But a mere mention of it makes us want it.
      Too bad I can’t relate with you and your dad as I’ve never had those brands. They’re not available here. Cheers to your highball though.

  6. Avatar
    Smiffy says:

    Great to see mention of the highball. I can recommend Glenlivet’s Founders Reserve for an excellent Scotch highball.
    Rye and Soda highballs are also worth ago with the soda rounding off the sharp spicey burn and letting other subtler elements come to the fore.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Smiffy,

      I’m very reluctant to buy any OB Glenlivet but if I come across a sample, I’ll try it.
      I’ve had rye and bourbon highballs but I prefer adding cinnamon stick as garnish. I get some weird flavors when I add soda water. The cinnamon stick sort of fills the gap.

  7. Alex
    Alex says:

    John, I’m going to guess you might be able to purchase the Teacher’s which is bottled at 43%, which isn’t (apparently) available in the UK. However, for £18 I reckon I’ll have to go back to Teachers for a revisit and a few highballs.

    Great article, clearly highballs are more popular than I thought!

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Alex, I don’t see any Teacher’s locally. I’ve only had it in Japan and I don’t know at which abv they’re bottled. I just had it once in Bar Apollo which I mentioned in my Chita review and it was just perfect.

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