Designing Cocktails for Pol ROger
As this year’s Imbibe Live came round, I was invited by Pol Roger to design a cocktail for their event stand. Each year they showcase the main features of their portfolio in cocktail form, and it was my job to create a recipe using Kilchoman’s Machir Bay.
Machir Bay displays everything you would want from an Islay whisky: Smoke, smoke and more smoke. Peated to the same PPM as the likes of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, its medicinal phenols are the dominant feature of this dram. It’s a young whisky, meaning that the smokey flavours from the kilning process haven’t had too much time to mellow in oak. The maturation is dominated by first fill bourbon barrels with a little ex-sherry to finish producing sweet citrus notes without distracting from the the star of the show: peat.
So how do you showcase a young whisky that behaves so traditionally? With an Old Fashioned…
I previously wrote a blog about Old Fashioneds, discussing the norm of using a bourbon whiskey base, and challenging that by using Compass Box’s Delilah, “a blended scotch that thinks it’s a bourbon”. Delilah is matured entirely in first fill and rejuvenated bourbon barrels, leaving it singing with the sort of vanilla and coconut sweetness you might expect from across the Atlantic. Kilchoman’s maturation isn’t dissimilar with its bourbon-focussed ageing, however the flavour is archetypal Islay. Could this work over ice with sugar and bitters, or is there something missing?
Earl Grey Tea proved the perfect addition to this cocktail. The mixture of smoke and tea spices is an age-old combination used throughout Asia in Chai, pulled tea or tea tarek. This sets our Earl Grey Old Fashioned apart from most you will have tasted, adding complexity. To sweeten, we used a small dash of maple syrup, allowing the warm, Canadian wood syrup to blend with the American-Oaked spirit, but that’s not all. Our real secret ingredient is Pedro Ximinez Sherry.
PX Sherry rears it’s head a lot in the whisky industry, its barrels often being used for maturing spirit (the second most common ex-sherry barrel after Olorosso sherry). Pedro Ximinez is a wine grape left for late harvest, having dried-out and raisined on the vine. The lack of water in the raisins means a high concentration of fructose, leading to a wine that will naturally ferment to a very high ABV (about 17%) with sugar to spare. Known as a “luscious wine”, the resulting sherry is so sweet that is is commonly added to dryer sherries such as Olorosso and Amontillado to create more palatable fortified wines known as “creams”. Alongside sweetness, PX also brings rich flavours of raisin (unsurprisingly), rolling tobacco, Christmas cake and winter spices, all of which complement our Earl Grey Old Fashioned adding further complexity, and an interesting alternative from crystal sugar or simple syrup.
Finally two dashes of bitters are added (I used 1 Angastura and 1 orange to complement Machir Bay’s citrus character), before stirring for 30 seconds over large ice cubes and garnishing with a twist of orange peel. The result is a cocktail that, while rich, is also amazingly refreshing. Imagine an iced tea, with Kilchoman’s signature Islay smoke at its heart. Slainte!