Scotch Cocktails – Dates & Sherry
There are a few great classic scotch cocktails. Done well a Rob Roy, Blood and Sand or a Rusty Nail are all great drinks. There are others that have become obscured by the fog of time and the vagaries of taste and fashion.
Let’s face it. Scotch is difficult to mix. It is fantastically complex and flavorful on it’s own. So why bother?
OK. Fair enough. Go away and enjoy your 18 year old single malt.
However, not bothering is not what I’m all about. I’m all about bothering. I can’t help it, I get curious. I don’t think I’m alone. Recently bartenders everywhere have been taking another look at scotch as a base for cocktails. Some of their results have been amazing.
In my exploration of scotch I’ve kind of settled on the intersection of scotch and sherry and their relationship to date and fig flavors as a jumping off point for exploration. So if you’re ready to take a deep dive into a barrel of scotch to see what we come up with read on.
Flavor Connections – Scotch, Sherry and Dates
Scotches have long been aged in used Sherry casks. Other distillers have recently picked up on the practice and now you can find several bourbons, ryes and Irish whiskeys cask finished in used sherry barrels. These spirits contain both whisky lactones and they will be influenced by the sherry lactones from the barrels they have been resting in.
Spirits finished in sherry casks will deliver aromas and flavors of coconut, vanilla, dates and figs. You will also find that these spirits will have pleasant nutty flavors that are one of the characteristics of good sherry.
Volatile Compounds in Sherry
In sherry you will find a number of dominant flavor compounds that can inspire some really great flavor pairing. These include acetylaldehydes which are also found in walnuts, green apples and Spanish ham as well as Acetoin and diacetyls which give you nice fatty creamy butter and cheese flavors and aromas. You will also find terpenes which are commonly found in gin, citrus fruits and flowers. These flavors are great for pulling out as secondary accents or aromatic notes in a whisky based cocktail but for now we are going to focus on lactones and solerone.
Lactones are the flavor molecules that provide the bridge between whiskey and sherry. The toasted coconut flavor of whiskey lactones (methyloctalactones) harmonize beautifully with sherry lactones which introduce apricot, coconut, peach and pork aromas.
Solerone, a sherry lactone, and sotolon, a whiskey lactone, strengthen the connection. Solerone is characterized by the aroma of dried figs. Sotolon is a close relation to solerone. Sotolon is the flavor molecule that you are tasting in a whiskey’s characteristic brown sugar, caramel and maple syrup flavors.
This gives us some interesting clues for building flavorful cocktails.
Obviously we are going to start with a good scotch or whiskey finished in sherry casks. Then we are going to bring in a fino sherry. Fino sherries not only have a strong connection to dates and figs their characteristic dryness will balance out the sweetness of the date or fig flavors that we are going to introduce.
Dried figs and dates are rich in sugars and phenolic compounds which means they undergo an enzymatic browning process that enhances their flavor and draws out flavor compounds that make them work well with both sherry and sherry cask finished spirits. Adding heat to this process brings the Maillard reaction into play and further draws out these flavor compounds.
There are several options for introducing date or fig flavors into scotch cocktails. We could simply muddle in the fruit or infuse our whisky with it. We could make bitters or a syrup with them. If we want to introduce date or fig flavors as an acidic component we could make them into shrub. Depending on where you want to end up you may use any or all of these techniques.
Because of the high sugar content of dates and figs they make great sweeteners for cocktails. You can make a date or fig syrup. If you’re feeling really ambitious you could level up and make date sugar. Using dates or figs as a sweetener will give you a warmer more complex flavor with less sweetness than regular granulated sugar.
Another approach you could try is to make a fig shrub made with sherry vinegar. Shrubs have been gaining popularity with bartenders recently because they are a fantastic way to add acid to a cocktail without relying on citrus. A shrub is, in short, a drinking vinegar that has been sweetened with an array of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. They open up a world of flavor options for the curious bartender.
Date bitters or fig bitters are another great approach. Here is one recipe for fig bitters you can look at for inspiration. Use this as a starting point an experiment from there.
You can try infusing sherry cask finished bourbon, rye or scotch with dried figs or dates, and a split vanilla bean. If you have fresh figs available try throwing them in the mix.
If you want to take the direct approach you can simply muddle figs or dates directly into your cocktail.
Highland Rouge Cocktail
The Highland Rouge is named for a fictional account of the life of Robert Roy MacGregor published in 1723. MacGregor was known as the Robin Hood of Scotland and is the namesake of the classic Scotch cocktail the Rob Roy.
The Highland Rouge
- 2 1/2 ounces sherry cask finished scotch
- 3/4 ounce fino sherry
- 1/2 ounce fig syrup
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 1 fresh fig quartered
- In a mixing glass, muddle the quartered fig with the fig simple syrup.
- Top with ice, then add the fino sherry, whisky and orange bitters.
- Shake until cold and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
- Add in extra fig for garnish.