Purists maintain that Scotch—especially single malt—must be drunk only straight, on the rocks or, if you must, with a splash of water, and they generally tend to think of it as a winter tipple.
To each his own, but until the mid-1800s, most Scotch was actually consumed in punch. Jerry Thomas of course includes a recipe in his seminal 1862 bartender’s guide How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion. It calls for steeping lemon-peel shavings in whisky, “which should be Glenlivet or Islay, of the best quality.” (He goes on to remark, cheekily, “as it requires genius to make whiskey punch, it would be impertinent to give proportions.”)
Today, these concoctions are enjoying a revival in Edinburgh’s stylish bars and allow for all kinds of experimentation. They are also great served outdoors in warm weather (think barbecues).
I recommend using a light-bodied blended Scotch as your base—Cutty Sark, Chivas Regal or J&B Rare, for example—but don’t be afraid to try malts as well: Talisker introduces spice while Laphroaig or Ardbeg adds smoke.
Mix the whisky with ginger ale, ginger beer, lemonade, club soda, apple juice or elderflower liqueur. Lemon, lime and ginger seem to go best with Scotch. I like a dash of Tabasco Sauce or bitters in some combinations, but please be discreet.
To get you started, I asked Stuart McCluskey, one of Scotland’s leading mixologists and owner of The Bon Vivant bar in Edinburgh, to create a refreshing summer whisky punch recipe. Slàinte!
Smoky Haze on Summer Days
Contributed by Stuart McCluskey
- 2 oz Light, smoky Scotch whisky (Talisker is ideal)
- 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
- 1.5 oz Rhubarb, Ginger and Honey Syrup* (or to taste)
- 1 handful Summer berries (raspberries, strawberries, blackberries or a combination)
- Quality ginger ale
Garnish: Orange wedge, mint sprig and summer berries
Add all ingredients except the ginger ale to a highball glass filled a third of the way with crushed ice. Stir lightly. Crown with a splash of ginger ale. Garnish with an orange wedge, mint sprig and a few summer berries.
*Rhubarb, Ginger and Honey Syrup
- 2 to 3 Rhubarb stalks, roughly chopped
- 2 to 3 slices Fresh ginger
- 2 oz Honey, plus more if desired
Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rhubarb breaks down into a pulp. Taste, and add more honey if desired. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and refrigerate until cold before using.
Charles MacLean, Master of the Quaich and James Beard Award winner, is the author of ten books on Scotch, including the Whiskypedia.