“Everything was fine until it was time for us to get up from the table to go on to Prince Ranier’s palace. As I got to my feet the room started spinning. I remember Sinatra grabbing hold of the back of my collar and saying, ‘just keep walking’.” Ever since then Geoffrey, who opened the trendy Hush Restaurant in London’s appropriately named New Bond Street earlier this year, restricts himself to Jack Daniel’s sessions three times a year. “It is so delicious mixed that you don’t realise how strong it is,” he admits. “I know when I have had too many. I start calling Jack Daniel’s, John Daniel’s.” Jimmy Bedford was amused by the story but had clearly led a sheltered life down in Lynchberg, Tennessee - he had no idea who Roger Moore was! Jimmy styles himself as the archetypal cowboy and prefers to drink his whiskey on the rocks, but he acknowledges that 60 per cent of the world drinks Jack Daniel’s with Coca Cola. The way you mix your whisk(e)y clearly defines you and happily for those who like a splash of ginger wine with their Teacher’s or Fanta with their Bell’s it is quite acceptable to ‘flavour’ your amber nectar - so long as you are diluting a blended malt and not a single one.”
The high rollers and gamblers drink the Jackarita,” Jimmy says. A Jackarita is like a Margarita but using Jack Daniels instead of Tequila and mixing it with sugar, lime juice and ice. The Jackarita is big in Las Vegas, but on the East Coast they drink The Manhattan, which is JD with red vermouth. This particular breed of drinkers are desribed as “city slickers from New York” by Jimmy. We Europeans tend to drink it mixed with Coca Cola while our Antipodean cousins dilute it with ice and water.
The head barman at London’s Atheneaum Hotel, Ian Suddaby, sees a huge cross section of international visitors pass through his whisky bar. The likes of comedian Billy Connolly and supermodel Claudia Schiffer are among his regulars. At the moment, the entire production team of the new Harry Potter movie have been based there, charging their glasses of an evening. He is used to fulfilling the varied and sometimes bizarre requests of his disparate clientele. Even so he nearly fainted when an American resident ordered a £40 shot of The Macallan 25 Year Old, then asked for a bottle of coke to throw in it. “I couldn’t believe it,” Suddaby exclaimed, “obviously I couldn’t say anything. But I had no hesitation in charging him an extra £1.20 for the coke.”
The snobbery which has developed over whisky drinking is a relatively new phenomenon. After all it was not long ago that a jug of lemonade could be found on every bar top in Scotland, purely for mixing with whisky. Now a social divide has been created among those who like to spice up their blend and those who wouldn’t dream of diluting their cherished single malt with anything other than the air and glass surrounding it. The origin of mixing your malt appears to have come from across the pond where they were well used to throwing all sorts of things into their whiskey.”
When Cutty Sark was first exported to the States there was a real tradition of cocktails, so you got things like Rob Roy (Scotch mixed with red vermouth) and Manhattans,” explains the Cutty Sark Marketing Director David King. “People created various drinks based on mixers they already knew and just adapted them for Scotch. So instead of vodka and orange you got whisky and orange. Whisky needed to be more approachable and people wanted easy tastes, which explains the growth in popularity of white spirits and lager compared to dark spirits and beer.” Indeed, Cutty Sark leapt many steps further and instigated advertising campaigns to appeal to the young, wild and free, “Booze, babes and bands” to name just one, and actively encouraged people to drink their Cutty as they wished.
As King argues, the success of international whisky brands have been due largely to their ‘mixability’. According to research from Seagram, 59 per cent of Greeks drink their Chivas with ice, 68 per cent of Spaniards throw in a flavoured mixer and 6 per cent of Mexicans drink it with Sprite. Even the actress Joan Collins drinks her Chivas Regal mixed with ice and water. Cutty Sark positively encourages drinkers to experiment with their nectar, hence their named cocktails Cutty Cooler, Cutty Sour and Cutty Liquor. “It is all about penetrating a lifestyle as white spirits have done,” argues King. “Long flavoured drinks are more popular in warm countries which do not have cold dark evenings like in Scotland. You can’t sell Scotland in a bottle to a seedy bar in the tropics.”
One woman who discovered the joys of a Cutty Sark mixer was television producer Annie Davies. It was while she was working on a children’s programme with a film crew, six children and a nun in Rome that the joys of flavoured whisky were revealed. It was at the end of a very long day when she finally had the chance to sit down after seeing the crew, children and nun off that she ordered a Scotch and diet coke. “It was the best Scotch and coke I had ever tasted,” she recalled. “So much so that I asked the barman what whisky it was. It turned out to be Cutty Sark and I have been drinking it ever since. And when I do it always takes me back to the cosy little bar at the Giulio Cesare Hotel in the Via Degli Scipioni.”
Curiously it is mainly older men who enjoy drinking their whisky flavoured in the UK. “The all time classics are the most popular,” adds Ian Suddaby, who has worked in whisky bars all over the country. “The most popular are the Manhattan (Canadian whisky or bourbon with dry vermouth), the Rob Roy, Irish coffee (with Jameson’s) or Highland Coffee (with Scotch), and of course the Whisky Mac (with ginger wine),” he says. Some flashier younger men opt for a wilder mixer, as Suddaby recalls. “I was working at another hotel when a young chap came in. It was obvious he wanted to impress his girlfriend, so he asked for a Blue Blazer, which is a combination of whisky and honey. You then set fire to the whisky and pour it between two silver cups, so there is a stream of blue flame between the two. This was the first time I had attempted this rather dangerous concoction and unfortunately set fire to my shirt and the bar in the process. I have never been asked for one since and would decline if I was.”
The origins of many cocktails are largely unknown, largely because the numbing effect on the brain of drinking so many, results in nobody actually remembering. Whisky Mac is one of those whose origins are a mystery, but probably goes back longer than most. Popular as a winter warmer, the mixer Stone’s Ginger Wine goes back to 1740. Many drinkers boast that Whisky Mac has medicinal qualities, much like its cousin the hot toddy, which is Scotch mixed with hot lemon and honey and thought to cure colds. The ginger wine in the Whisky Mac is said to help aid digestion and is a good antidote to cholera. More important it is hailed as an aphrodisiac which probably accounts for the cocktail’s extraordinary popularity. For those who prefer diluting their whisky without adding flavour, comes the complication of what kind of water. With the trend of drinking more bottled water, people are now getting fussy about what kind of bubbles are in the water. “Some ask for bottled mineral water, some for soda and some for ordinary still,” confirms Suddaby, but there are those who prefer Badoit to Perrier. This represents a big change over recent years when a splash of tap water was the norm. In some bars in the States they even flavour the water with which they make the ice cubes.
Ian Greig, of Highland Distillers which produces The Famous Grouse, corroborates the evidence that climate affects the way people drink their whisky. “In Spain and Portugal you will find they mix it a lot using coke and ice,” he says.
Long, hot and balmy summer evenings are more conducive to drinking whisky as a long cool cocktail, than a neat shot designed to burn through to your soul and melt your frozen fingers. There is no distinction between the sexes either. In Greece whisky is very much a unisex drink and, in certain restaurants, bottles of high quality blended malts will be distributed around the tables much like wine, accompanied by jugs of water. The French prefer to drink their whisky at home rather than in bars. They are not great mixers of the malt either. It is stuff to be consumed quietly with close, sophisticated friends in contemplative mood or not at all. Though that’s not to say that drinking whisky to excess in Monaco with royalty and world-famous celebrities isn’t acceptable either.