June every year marks a particularly special week for one Scottish island in the form of the Islay Whisky Festival, known to both locals and the more pretentious of fans (myself included) as Feis Ile. This year I was lucky enough to be invited by Kilchoman to design some exclusive cocktails and run a cocktail bar at the farm distillery for their open day. I received some bottles of Kilchoman a few days later, gathered up some potential ingredients and set to work to on the recipes.
The first pour used Sanaig, one of my favourite expressions from Kilchoman, matured in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. This whisky displays strong bonfire smoke character along with sweet flavours from the bourbon maturation levelled out with a rich, spicy, dried fruit character from the sherry. The peat is strong, but for a young dram it’s loaded with flavour, and you can really taste the quality of their spirit. I wanted to be able to bring across the warmth, fire and smoke of this whisky, and eventually achieved this in the Peat Fire Sour.
Because maintaining the flavour of Sanaig was key, I decided not to add any other spirits or liqueurs into the mix, so simply loaded up with a doubled up with 2 measures of the whisky. To that I add lemon juice, an egg white, a dash of ginger cordial, some ginger tea and a pinch of cayenne pepper for some heat, sweetened with simple syrup to taste before shaking vigorously with ice. Then comes the theatre – garnishing with a torched marshmallow on a stick of spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, and a shake of cinnamon over the flame for that final fiery flourish. Strong, sour and smokey, this one is not for the feint hearted, much like Sanaig itself.
The second cocktail on the menu was made using Kilchoman’s Bramble Liqueur, a 20% ABV concoction made from their peated new make infused with sugar and blackberry, which I would highly recommend seeking out. This very original blend of peat spirit and sweet, sweet berries screams Scottish summer, and only a cool, refreshing cocktail could represent this – The Smoked Bramble Julep.
I immediately reached for the Gin to accompany the Kilchoman Bramble Liqueur (we used Botanist on the day), and began to play around with ingredients. After a trip to The Fruit Garden in Marylebone, I came back with armfuls of fresh lime and mint, which I muddled in a Julep tin. I then added some simple syrup, topping up with crushed ice and soda. To garnish - fresh mint and a juicy bramble (not forgetting a stirrer). If you try this at home I would recommend serving it in a high ball glass rather than a tin to show off the beautiful colour fade from purple to clear when the soda pours over – this is how we did it at Feis Ile and it proved to be the most popular cocktail of the day.
Finally we served a Machir-Bay based cocktail that I designed for Pol Roger to use at their Imbibe Live stand this year - the Earl Grey Old Fashioned (details of which can be found in our Pol Roger Earl Grey Old Fashioned blog).
When the festival came around I flew to Islay with a bag full of bar equipment and was met by James Wills, who brought me up to the distillery. There we started setting up with the help of Kilchoman’s brilliant staff and their incredible carpenter who built us a bar woven from old cask staves, flanked with old barrel heads used as ice buckets. As the distillery opened for the day the rain began to pour, but spirits were still high (non pun intended), and locals and tourists alike lined up for drinks. All in all, a great success, and we hope to see you there next year…