When it comes to smoke in cocktails, balance is key—when working with Islay scotch, there’s one surefire way to get it right every time, according to Atlanta-based bartender Alexandros Vasillios Lazaridis. The answers, he says, can be found between the lines. “Islay scotch will bring that smoky flavor that is wildly associated with the style, however underneath the smoky surface is a wide range of truly amazing secondary notes,” Lazaridis shares. “I think it's imperative to be incredibly aware which secondary notes you want to [highlight]—when you are able to accent those underlying notes, you are able to cut the smoke using the qualities already found in the whisky itself.”
Tasting your base spirit before making a cocktail always a sound place to start. If you’ve never done a true tasting (e.g. one that involves swirling, sniffing, and sipping), you can read our complete expert guide to tasting spirits, or you can follow these simplified steps to get the ball rolling:
- Set yourself up with a glass of water and a good tasting glass (such as a Glencairn), a notebook and a dropper, if you have one.
- Pour a small amount of the whisky into the glass and begin to swirl it gently, looking at the liquid in the light and breathing in the aromas at various distances from the mouth of the glass to see what your nose picks up on.
- After nosing, take a small sip and let the whisky sit on your tongue for a few seconds, moving it around in your mouth before swallowing. Repeat as necessary.
- Add a few drops of water and taste again, looking for new or different notes in the process. Write down your findings for later reference.
Sherry and Scotch whisky make a great pair in cocktails, not unlike the centuries-old practice of aging the latter in casks that once held the former—the soft sweetness of sherry within the wood tends to lend roundness, depth and complexity, and one could say the same about sherry’s presence in a scotch cocktail. “Sherry is such a wonderful ingredient in cocktail making, and unfortunately that gets overlooked by the majority of the beverage world,” says Lazaridis. “Much like many other sprits, sherry offers a range of styles that can add great depth or a spark to a cocktail.”
Now that you’ve got the tools to make the ultimate scotch and sherry drink, try your hand at our Whisky in Church recipe below.
- 2 ounces Islay scotch
- 3/4 ounce Oloroso sherry
- 1 barspoon grade B maple syrup
- 6 dashes smoked cherry bitters
- Garnish: lemon twist
Stir all ingredients together with ice until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.
Garnish with a lemon twist.