In days of yore whisky was often seen as a recuperating drink. It could raise spirits and warm stout hearts that had spent the day in the great outdoors farming or maybe just pruning back a violently out of control monkey puzzler. This role may in practice be largely forgotten, but the shared cultural memory of making some kind of whisky cocktail to be enjoyed in the winter months remains. In this little piece I will hopefully not only educate you in how to make a few cocktails, but also improve upon your likely quite rusty social life.
(Considering that one of these whisky cocktails is made specifically for Halloween the reader may consider the title to be slightly misleading. ‘One Autumn and a Couple of Winter Whisky Cocktails’ doesn’t quite roll off the keyboard; I hope I am to be forgiven.)
The Whisky Mac
An abiding memory of my grandmother, the hardy wife of a Devon country vet, is her regular drinking habits (as opposed to a regular habit of drinking). Finally home after Midnight Mass, filling the Aga with the first of the Christmas sausage rolls, she would make for herself and anyone else that would have one, a whisky Mac.
Stone’s Original Ginger Wine
King’s Ginger (Optional)
Named over 100 years ago after a great Scottish hero, Colonel Hector MacDonald of the Gordon Highlanders, one can be certain of its Caledonian heritage. There are a few schools of thought on the ratios, either 1:1 or 3:2 whisky to ginger wine seeming to be the most popular. Simply pour over ice directly into the glass (exactly the sort of quick and simple drink you would want to make after a long evening at Midnight Mass).
I myself like to chuck in a generous splash of King’s Ginger, a (you guessed it) ginger liquor that adds another layer of complexity to this simple drink whilst also providing a bit more kinetic energy to an already punchy little drink.
Do not go up to a barman and ask for a lobotomy. Around the time of Halloween this is simply asking for mischief to be brought down upon you by ghouls and unlicensed physicians, and it is much safer to ask whether you might order a tall glass of The Lobotomy. “But Sir/Ma’am, you’ve always been here” will no doubt be the nonsensical reply to the nonsensical drink order. Perhaps it would be better to make this one at home.
50 ml Bourbon Whisky
Half a shot of Amaretto
Half a shot Peach Schnapps
25 ml apricot nectar
Half a shot of pineapple juice
As you may have guessed earlier by the name, and what you must surely know now by the above list, this drink leaves its ingestors (liquid investors) in primitive and often unresponsive state. Drink sensibly out of a highball glass with some ice. Have a glass of water afterwards.
The Chalke Valley Wassail
Before the intense commercialisation of Christmas resulted in it becoming cut off from its rich history in this country it was celebrated very differently. Indeed whereas now the festivities are entirely focused on the build up to and on Christmas day, the Advent period used to be marked by fasting, when on Christmas Day would begin a festival of twelve days; no points for working out which song shows this. I am sure there is an interesting conclusion to be drawn from our inability to wait to celebrate a holy day that is a mere echo of its former self, but this I write for a whisky company, not The Spectator.
One once vital part of the British Christmas was the Wassail, itself an integral part of Wassailing. This ancient drink and its ritual involved going door to door in salutation and often charity giving. The Wassail itself is effectively mulled cider, made in a large bowl for the community to enjoy together and make merry with.
12 Whole Cloves
6 Whole Allspice
1/2 Inch of Fresh Ginger Root, peeled and sliced
3 Sticks of Cinnamon
12 Whole White Peppercorns
3/4 Cup of Brown Sugar
8 Pints of West Country Cider
12 Shots of Blended Whisky
3 Whole Apples
What you’ll want to do is wrap all of the spices in a cheese cloth bag, which of course you won’t have at your flat in Balham, but your Grandmother will possess hidden behind the box of Atora suet that looks like it went through the Blitz.
Chuck this spicy bag into a large pot on high heat with the cider and the brown sugar. Bring it to a boil and then chuck in the apples and reduce the heat, letting it simmer for 30 minutes. Occasionally stir with a large wooden spoon and adopt the contented pose of a mother who is about to be surprised by the arrival of her hitherto absent but much thought of children.
Now it is ready to serve. Pour the hot stuff into a mug with a handle over a clumsily generous shot of whisky.
The above would typically serve around 10 Christmas Wassailers, but remember that festive generosity may cause this number to shrink. This is a local recipe my own family have been known to use, and although it isn’t perhaps completely historically accurate (I doubt the Saxons had access to allspice) it is very tasty and, in this authors humble opinion, better than mulled wine, which mies very poorly with whisky.
By Will Prior