So I’ve been in a bit of a quandary.
A month or so ago I picked up a bottle of Drumguish Single Malt Highland Scotch. My local supplier had sworn up and down that the regulars had been lapping this stuff up and singing its praises from the nearest church steeple.
And at roughly $25 it skates in as one of the most affordable single malts we’ve seen. So, naturally, after having my expectations built up so high, imagine my disappointment when Drumguish turned out to be nothing more than a middling scotch for a decent price.
Drumguish, if we’re being honest, doesn’t even have the good taste to be terrible. It’s the wallflower at your local high school dance. It’s the Christian rock of scotches. Sure there’s some talent there, but give me a bit of hellfire.
It being the holidays, I hauled the bottle with me from gathering to gathering, soliciting opinions from scotch drinkers, scotch haters, and random passersby. The highly unscientific verdict was unanimous – its mediocrity was overpowering.
It’s the Millard Fillmore of scotches.
So there lay the quandary. What do I do with it? And that got me to thinking about scotch cocktails.
You see, there’s an inherent tragedy in using a really excellent single malt in a cocktail. Truly great single malts like the Balvenie Caribbean Cask or the Dalwhinnie 15 deserve to stand on their own. Many single malts lose their complexities and layers when mixed in cocktails.
Others, like say the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, drag the cocktail’s other flavors down a dark alley and work them over with a sock full of quarters.
Perhaps where the Drumguish fails as a solo act, it could shine as part of an ensemble?
Parsing Out the Flavors
Drumguish has a surprisingly sweet nose for a scotch – harkening back to softer southern Highland bottlings. Drumguish’s packaging offers no clues to its age or heritage, however a cursory bit of research reveals that it hails from the Speyside Distillery. Trying to track down its age proved fruitless, however.
The Drumguish swings a bit sweeter, and is somewhat bland, with just a little bit of spice that toddles along on the end of it. My first thoughts are of a pairing with a “hotter” absinthe.
I’ve always been fond of Lucid Absinthe Supérieure, the first real Absinthe to break into the US market when the ban was lifted in 2007. absinthe drinkers tend to place Lucid in the center of the pack, as a largely inoffensive, doggedly consistent introductory absinthe. I’ve found it consistently accessible, and a pleasant mix of anise, fennel, and wormwood.
Creating the Ecossaise (Pronounced Echo-sees)
To get the proportions correct for the Ecossaise (a Scottish country dance popular in France in the early 19th Century), I wanted to see how both the absinthe and the scotch played with Angostura bitters, and water. I took both the absinthe and the scotch separately, added a bitters-soaked sugar cube, and then topped with ice-cold purified water.
With both of these, the inherent spice of the individual spirits was actually bolstered by the water and the bitters. Combined, the Lucid pushes the Drumguish to the side, so I knew we didn’t have to do equal parts of the scotch and absinthe.
Making the Ecossaise
I knew I wanted this drink to be a bit of a labor of love. In the whirlwind world of mixology, every once in a while it’s nice to have a cocktail that takes just a little bit of time to complete and enjoy. I also knew I wanted to pay homage to the classic (and admittedly time consuming) traditional absinthe preparation technique. Make sure you have time to make this, but the final results are well worth the wait.
- Absinthe Fountain, or way to slowly pour the water (we use a port sipper)
- Ice Cold Purified Water
- 1 oz. Lucid Absinthe Supérieure plus some to wash
- 3 oz. Drumguish Single Malt Highland Scotch
- Bitters Soaked Sugar Cube
- Absinthe Spoon
- 6 oz. Absinthe Glass
To Make the Ecossaise:
- Frost a 6 oz. absinthe glass.
- To do this, take your absinthe glass and fill with ice and purified water. Let sit for about five minutes until the glass is nice and cold. Dump the ice, rinse quickly with ice cold water, then place the glass in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes. This creates a gorgeous frost to keep the glass ice cold.
- Remove the frosted absinthe glass from the freezer
- Wash the glass with a bit of absinthe and dump the remaining
- Add the scotch and absinthe to the absinthe glass
- Place the absinthe spoon over the glass and then place the bitters-soaked cube on top
- Slowly drip the ice-cold purified water over the ice cube until it’s fully dissolved
- Once it’s fully dissolved, gently stir the drink with your absinthe spoon and serve
You’ll want to have everything prepared in advance, as this drink will warm up fast. We’ve played around with freezing the scotch and absinthe before hand, and that does add a little bit of length to the chill.
The Ecossaise has a powerful anise and fennel flavor up front courtesy of the absinthe, then changes gears into an oaky, cereal mash burn from the scotch, and finishes with heavy, velvety spice.
Mark Vierthaler is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Cocktails, 365. His work has appeared in The Tasting Panel Magazine, Savvy Host, Liquor.com, and countless other websites and blogs. He is Bar Smarts certified, and works with bars and restaurants in cocktail creation and pairing. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com