Whisky was once a classist quaff for the well-heeled. I used to imagine stodgy, waistcoat-wearing old men with David Attenborough accents bonding in silence over a neat Speyside, or Colonel Sanders-esque white suit-wearing American plantation owners languishing in the summer heat, a Tennessee sippin’ whisky their only solace from the elements. However, this beautiful marriage of smoke and peat systematically crept into
mainstream consciousness, thanks in no small part to a new generation of bartenders who would not for a second hesitate to snatch this spirit right out of the wood-paneled boardrooms of yore and spin it into something lively and, dare I say, fun.
A rich tradition of whisky-making spans Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States, and even Japan and India. Regional variation in climate, topography, and base ingredients (such as rye versus corn versus wheat) create the rich terroire associated with, say, American bourbon versus Scottish single malt.
Whisky-based cocktails have surged in popularity as well: whisky sours, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds (to name just a few) leaped straight out of Mad Men and onto the menus of countless eateries. Myself, I’m sipping a Kentucky straight Bourbon as I write this, its round, buttery, brown-sugar notes rolling onto my tongue like words onto a page. We at Get Cooking are whisky afficionadi as well. On December 4th, we held our first-ever whisky-themed dinner, with whisky incorporated into each course.
Our resident bartender, the indefatigable Joshua “Happy” Byrne, along with his steadfast sidekick Luis, shook and stirred a rogue’s gallery of whisky-based cocktails. We started with a traditional Old Fashioned, which sees whisky (Elijah Craig Bourbon, in this case) gently stirred with a bit o’ raw sugar, a dash of aromatic bitters, and a twist of orange peel (flaming it brings out their citrus’s essential oils). Chef Eric Hanson’s glazed ham with smoked butter carrots coaxed out further whispers of smoky satisfaction.
We progressed to a classy Manhattan made with our province’s own Forty Creek Alberta Premium, while we nibbled on sharp cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches on rye with whisky-soaked cherries. A Manhattan is an Old Fashioned’s first cousin, which retains the aforementioned’s bitters, but swaps out straight sugar in favour of sweet vermouth. (You might remember the classic scene in “Some Like it Hot” where Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon make Manhattans in a hot water bottle)
We cured all that ailed us with Penicillin, a layered concoction of Scotch, lemon juice, and ginger-honey syrup, while we nibbled on Glenlivet (an archetypical Scotch that formed the basis of this cocktail)-soaked apples and Evans cherries (from my mom’s backyard, no less).
Dickel Tennessee whisky appeared in our Whisky Sour and in caramel gastrique that accompanied the clean, sweet essence of smoked salmon with dill and capers. Whisky Sours contain egg white, which creates the Sour’s characteristic froth, but fears of raw egg white are blown grossly out of proportion. The lemon juice and Bourbon in this cocktail “cook” the egg, much like lime juice “cooks” the fish in ceviche.
Things took a tropical turn with a Whisky Smash spiked with charred pineapple and lemon juice. Of note: we used Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, which was the first Canadian whisky ever to win the coveted “Whisky of the year” in Jim Murray’s Annual Whisky Bible 2016. This nicely chased pineapple rice with sage leaves.
We finished with an Irish Coffee, brewed with locally-roasted Iconoclast Coffee and oh-so-accurately named Writer’s Tears Irish whisky, and paired with coffee-crusted bison flank steak. If you’re feeling chilled on these dark December nights, you can whip up the same Irish Coffee we make:
Hard Pinch Turbinado Sugar
4 oz Mid-Dark Roast Coffee, brewed
Milky Whipped Cream (1 tsp Icing sugar : 2 oz whipping cream)
Combine cream and icing sugar and whip softly – don’t take it as far as soft peak. Set aside. Pour hot coffee into a large mug or Irish Coffee glass. Stir in sugar and whisky. Top gently with whipped cream. Enjoy!
If reading that got your mouth watering, we have a Christmas Punches class coming up on December 17th. Happy Byrne will be teaching us that punches are so much more than that fruity thing in the school gym that the bad kids snuck vodka into. Think of them as cocktails en masse. There’ll be a terrific meal that night as well, cooked up by Chef Eric Hanson. And Effing Rob Tryon – the city’s seafood wild child – will be plating some fabulous West Coast oysters and remarkable Acadian sturgeon caviar. We have just a few spaces left, so get ‘em before they’re gone!
* Thanks and credit to our photographer Pilar Ramirez of iproshot photography.