Whisky Cocktail Tastings at Chop House, Edinburgh
Call me old-fashioned... I jest. But whisky happens to be one of my favourite spirits, which comes in pretty handy when you're living in Scotland's capital city. I'm still fairly new to the world of whisky; I have my failsafes and my favourites, and there are still many that cause me to wince or splutter, but I'm always up for trying something new where there's myriad options to choose from.
So when I saw that Chop House on Edinburgh's Market Street was hosting a whisky cocktail tasting night, in collaboration with premium whisky brand Ardbeg, I jumped at the chance to go along. When it comes to whisky cocktails, I've only ever tried the classics - the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan - and none of them have really sent me swooning like some of their lighter alternatives. But there's something sophisticated about a really good whisky cocktail, and I was really keen to find a new favourite from the selection offered by the Chop House's expert barman.
We headed along last Friday night, not totally sure what to expect from the evening but thinking it would probably be along the lines of a lecture in a small room with a bunch of strangers, a brief sip of a tiny cocktail and a mere morsel of an accompanying food. How wrong we were.
We arrived and were told to choose any seat at the bar, where the tastings would be taking place - so we picked a corner spot for two, naturally. In total there was only ten of us at the bar, so it was really intimate and close, and allowed us all a prime view of the mixology taking place in front of us. It also gave the head barman, the fabulous Mateo, more than enough time to speak to every pair individually, talk them through each cocktail and answer any questions too.
Ardbeg whisky is apparently the peatiest whisky in the world; a fact that's a little scary for a relative whisky novice like myself - I generally tend to stick to the vanilla and caramel kind of flavours rather than overtly smoky or woody ones. Mateo explained that it's not a spirit for beginners, and that he'd worked hard to create a series of cocktails that blended beautifully with the spirit, to showcase its flavours in a gentle way, without masking its unique depth.
For the first cocktail, we started with a long drink - one Mateo described as being 'the perfect summer drink', with a name inspired by its gin alternative: the Ardbeg Collins. Served in a tall glass packed with crushed ice, the drink comprised a shot of Ardbeg 10 Year single malt, layered with lime juice, a homemade strawberry syrup and finished with a splash of prosecco, with a bunch of mint leaves and a freeze-dried strawberry to garnish. The resulting flavour was very smoky, but lifted by a really fresh, sweet flavour that gradually turned dry, thanks to the prosecco, as you continued to sip it. I was so surprised that a whisky cocktail could be so refreshing, but it tasted delicious and worked beautifully with its accompanying snack; a huge, juicy prawn tempura, served with Bloody Mary ketchup.
Our second drink was a step further along the Ardbeg path, this time using the Ardbeg Corryvreckan series (so named after a seriously dangerous stretch of water, one you'd apparently have to be very brave to try - an appropriate name if there ever was one!). This cocktail, 'The Calm Before The Storm', was another wild leap into whisky for me, mixing woody flavours with ingredients I'd never have expected to work. Served in a champagne flute coated in powdered cinnamon, this cocktail mixed the Corryvreckan with fermented pineapple juice, lemon and egg white, shaken to create a frothy, thick mixture. As a general rule, I like neither egg white nor pineapple juice in my cocktails, so I wasn't convinced I'd enjoy this one - but again, what do I know? Somehow this dense, indulgent blend worked beautifully as a palate cleanser, offering a sweet and rich yet tangy flavour that I couldn't stop sipping. The woody, smoky undertones of the peat were still present but the resulting flavour was smooth and silky throughout. 'The Calm Before The Storm' was served with a classic Chop House snack; a generous slice of medium-rare chargrilled rib-eye steak - needless to say, it was utterly delicious. Give me a slab of pink steak and I'm a very happy woman.
For our third and final cocktail, Mateo warned us he'd be taking us right to the top in terms of strength and flavour - and he wasn't kidding. 'Letters from Mickey' was probably one of the strongest cocktails I've ever drunk, but somehow it was also one of the most enjoyable. Combining rich, chocolatey flavours throughout, this felt like a real dessert cocktail and the perfect finish to the tastings. Mateo stirred both dry and sweet vermouth together, along with a shot of Ardbeg Uigeadail - a whisky that offers a blend of new and old Ardbeg spirits. aged in a sherry barrel for a sweeter finish. He then added a splash of hot sauce, and poured into a frozen champagne saucer, which had been dipped into a homemade chocolate sauce created with 70% dark chocolate and Cross Brew coffee liqueur, and dropped in a fresh whole cherry too. This was definitely a sipper - it was so strong! However, the rich, dark and almost fruity flavours were almost addictive, and once you got used to the pungency of the whisky, it became a really velvety, indulgent kind of cocktail. I could really taste the toffee and caramel notes of the whisky, which of course meant that I adored every sip. This one was served with more steak, but this time a medium-rare Porterhouse instead. Again, it goes without saying that it was so, so tasty. Juicy and soft and just delicious.
Overall, the tasting experience was fabulous and offered so much more than we were expecting; seriously generous portions and a really friendly, laidback atmosphere. We both asked Mateo a million questions about each cocktail and its ingredients, his inspiration, their names, and he couldn't have been nicer or happier to help. He even let us try the whiskies neat so that we could attempt to appreciate their flavours alone, and mixed us up a little chaser cocktail to try too - I wish I could remember what was in this one but by this point, I'd really had quite a lot to drink and my memory just ain't what it used to be. I only remember the important part - it had more whisky in it, and it tasted GOOD.
We'll definitely be heading back to the Chop House to drink more of their booze and eat more of their steak in the future - a boozy, beefy brunch is now definitely on the horizon in the next few weeks.
Thanks again to the Chop House for having us along for such a fabulous event; I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next event like this and I recommend you do too!