Yesterday I talked about the role that sugar plays in a cocktail and I gave you a basic formula that’s made up of 2 parts main spirit, ¾ sweet components, and ¾ sour components. Today I’m going to talk about the creative process behind coming up with a new drink, and to illustrate these ratios bit more for you. I want to emphasize that there’s no “Do not attempt this at home” warning here. To the contrary, there’s no reason why you can’t come up with your own recipes, and I totally encourage you to do so!
The first decision that I usually make when crafting a new cocktail is which of the main spirits I’d like to use. Today I decided on Scotch whisky, and since I knew that I wanted the drink to have a smoky flavor profile, I used both Balvenie Doublewood and Laphroaig 10-year-old to make up my 2 ounce base. Next I wanted an herbal liqueur that wasn’t too medicinal or bitter, with a good amount of sweetness, and a decent amount of alcohol to stand up against the Scotch. Bénédictine immediately came to mind. For me it’s one of the best herbal liqueurs to work with, less difficult than green Chartreuse, but more assertive than yellow, with a wide range of flavors that work well with many different base spirits. There are some definite traces of honey in the sweetness, spices that remind me of Christmas candles, ripe fruit and almonds, and botanicals that echo the flavor of gin. That’s a lot going on in one spirit, right? That’s what makes it so versatile! I mix the 2 Scotch whiskies with ½ ounce of the Benedictine and I taste what I have so far. I want to be sure that it’s going in the right direction; if it wasn’t then I’d go back to the drawing board.
It’s time to add in the citrus, and so I pour ¾ ounce of lemon in, based on knowing what works well with Scotch whisky in other cocktails like The Penicillin, and taste the drink again. I need a bit more sweetness to bring that side of the formula up, and so I add in ¼ ounce of Liber & Co. gum syrup, which is a lot like a simple syrup but with a richer and smoother taste. I do not choose to use any kind of an infused syrup here because there are already enough flavors happening. At this point I shake the cocktail and taste it again. I could serve it exactly the way it is right now, but this is where I like to have some fun with bitters. After tasting, I decide that I’d like to “lift” the citrus flavor of the drink just a bit because it’s hiding behind the smokiness of the Scotch, and I use DRAM’s Citrus Medica bitters to do exactly that. If I had wanted to highlight the smoky aspect, then I would have gone with DRAM’s Palo Santo bitters or Black Cloud’s Charred Cedar. I taste the drink one last time and it’s right where I want it to be.
Things don’t always fall into place quite so easily and there are often times when a cocktail will take a lot of trial and error, shifting ingredients this way and that, before landing on what works for you. Always remember that the ratios here are not cast in stone. There’s definitely some wiggle room and it all depends on how you like your drinks to taste. Always let your palate be your guide and, if you are making several different versions of a drink, you should try to taste them side by side. That’s the ideal way to learn which rendition is best. Happy cocktail crafting!
The Sunny Scotsman
1½ oz Balvenie Doublewood Scotch whisky
½ oz Laphroaig 10-year-old Scotch whisky
½ oz Bénédictine
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz Liber & CO. gum syrup
2 dashes DRAM Citrus Medica bitters
Place all the ingredients in the bottom half of a shaker tin and add your ice. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass and garnish with lemon strip. Enjoy!