For our first event in 2016, we started off things with a bang, collaborating with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Shirt Bar to put on a special whisky tasting session called Single Cask Cocktails. Yep, you guessed it, we were going to be tasting cocktails; but not just any old drinks, these were going to be made with some special whisky.
Any whisky enthusiast will be familiar with the Society and more importantly, its whiskies. Some 37,000 plus members strong globally, the Society's main point of difference is that it bottles its own whisky at cask strength from hand selected casks from distilleries world wide. Generally only available to members to buy, non-members keen for a taste will have to either sign up or go to one of the Society's partner bars, of which Shirt Bar in Sydney is one. Part drinking joint, part shirt shop and part coffee place, Shirt's casual surrounds belie a carefully curated backbar aimed at showcasing an interesting array of spirits with a heavy focus on whisky, now augmented by a selection of Society bottlings since it became a partner bar in late 2015.
Perhaps due to their unique nature (and the associated cost), single cask, cask strength whiskies rarely find their way into cocktails. So when the chance came up to collaborate with the Society at Shirt Bar's monthly Scotch Club sessions, we decided to shake up the traditional whisky tasting format by showcasing the Society's bottlings through cocktails tasted alongside the whiskies itself. Working with Shirt's bar manager Patrick Litschka, we collectively came up with three different cocktails to match the three whiskies on show.
Presenting to a sell out and at times boisterous audience on the night, the Society's National Brand Ambassador Matt Bailey was on hand to explain the unique characteristics of Society bottlings and the nuances in taste of the whiskies, starting with Cask 46.32, moving on to a Cask 7.121 and finishing with a Cask 4.210.
For those unfamiliar with how the Society works, Matt explained that the digits before the decimal point denote the distillery from which the cask originated and the second half of the numbering represents the number of casks bottled from that distillery. So for example, Cask 46.32 is in fact from Glenlossie and the 32nd bottling by the Society from that particular distillery. To accompany the Glenlossie, we had a Whisky Spritz styled on the classic whisky and soda combination; given a lift on this occasion with the addition of chamomile syrup to highlight the gooseberry and elderflower notes of the spirit.
Next up, and to accompany Cask 7.121 (a 12 year old bottling from Longmorn distillery), we served up a libation inspired by the Il Palio cocktail created by Jeff Faile at Washington eatery Casa Luca. Starting life as a Rob Roy, the drink slowly morphed into a Boulevardier as the Campari ice cube melted. The sweet Antica Formula balanced the salty notes of the whisky perfectly, with the Campari adding a third dimension both in taste and visually.
Closing things off we returned to the most classic of cocktails to accompany Cask 4.210 aka a 16 year old Highland Park - The Old Fashioned - but with the use of port to replace the usual sugar syrup. The unctuous richness of the port was a perfect foil to the slightly smoky notes of the whisky...a perfect way to round it all off.
A huge thanks to the Society for a rare opportunity to try some amazing single cask whiskies and to Shirt Bar for the expertly made cocktails and much welcomed charcuterie boards to wash it all down after.