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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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