Our bartenders explain how to master single-malt mixology
In the world of spirits, few elixirs carry the weight of tradition and reverence as does single malt whisky. This liquid gold, celebrated for its complexity and rich character, has long been the epitome of sipping perfection. It is often imbibed neat, treasured in crystal glasses and savoured slowly, as if each drop encapsulates generations of craftsmanship.
Historically the thought of mixing such a revered spirit into a cocktail was nothing short of sacrilegious. However, with the variety of flavour profiles offered by the category, as well as an interest from distilleries to produce their own interpretations around the globe, a transformation is underway. Bartenders are now revitalizing classics and reimagining new possibilities.
Our tasting panel team comprises Jenna Gillespie, Lory Nixon and Kate Chernoff from British Columbia and Erika Mauro, Ashley Flynn and Jenn Abergel from Ontario. This all-female perspective weighs in on their favourite single malts and how to cocktail with them.
Royal Lochnagar 16 Year
57.5% ABV, $249.99, 700 mL
“The peat isn’t too abrasive, but I still get that lovely smoky finish I’m looking for,” says Gillespie, head bartender at L’Abattoir in Vancouver (@jazzyjenna). Gillespie’s favourite flavours are represented in Royal Lochnagar 16 Year, a rare release from Diageo that came out in 2021. “On the nose it’s lightly smoky with notes of green apples, grapes and orange zest. Then upon tasting it, you experience a wave of spices, dry oak, and citrus.” (If you’re unable to track down a bottle of Royal Lochnagar 16 Year, Ontario residents can find the Royal Lochnagar 12 Year for around $100 at LCBO stores.)
Suggested cocktail: Rob Roy or Penicillin. “Depending on your budget, you can either use in a Rob Roy as the base, or float a small amount on top of a Penicillin to showcase the subtle smoke,” Gillespie notes.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
48% ABV, $104.99, 750 mL
“My favourite single malt to drink is Laphroaig Quarter Cask, mainly due to its nostalgic place in my upbringing,” says Nixon, bar manager at Bagheera in Vancouver (@loryhnixon). “I come from a Scottish family and the campfire smell from the peat is very comforting to me. I find its heavy medicinal notes very pleasant and warming as the whisky on its own. I do use it in a cocktail, though, when I can get my hands on it.”
Suggested cocktail: Penicillin. “One of my favourite classics is a Penicillin. I like it really spicy and warm. I will generally use either a blended scotch like Johnnie Walker or a single malt that’s forgiving, like Deanston Virgin Oak, for the base,” notes Nixon. “My simple recipe is three-quarter ounce Johnnie Walker or Deanston and then half an ounce of Laphroaig with one ounce ginger-lemon syrup.”
Craigellachie 13 Year
46% ABV, $80.99, 750 mL
“Having been introduced to Craigellachie 13 by [Toronto bartending legend] Evelyn Chick, it has become one of my favourite single malts,” says Mauro, owner of Sips Mobile Cocktails in Toronto (@e.mauro). “It has a more approachable, less smoky taste, but it is full of big tropical flavours like pineapple and mango. For those who are new to single malts, a fruity single malt is an excellent first step when it comes to cocktail making. Craigellachie is one of my favourite single malts because it delivers both sweetness and strength of what you’d expect from most single malts. A good description I’ve read about Craigellachie is the ‘Bonfire Night’ single malt. Imagine sweetness from toasty marshmallows with a smoky finish from the campfire.”
Suggested cocktail: The Golden Sipper. “We used to serve a riff on the Old Soul cocktail that we called The Golden Sipper,” notes Mauro. “It’s essentially a Craigellachie Sour that’s super approachable, delicious and it really satisfies the masses. It’s super easy to make and tasty; even though we don’t serve it anymore, I still make and like to enjoy it at home!”
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
50% ABV, $85.99, 750 mL
“My favourite single malt is Bruichladdich Classic Laddie,” remarks Kate Chernoff, bartender at Humboldt Bar in Victoria (@cocktailcowgirl). “I really enjoy this product from the Bruichladdich lineup. In particular, I love how the light smokiness ties together all of the stone fruit and floral notes. The high proof also allows it to perform really well in cocktails, which is great when making drinks for guests looking for something spirit forward.”
Suggested cocktail: Meat Hook. “I love to use Bruichladdich Classic Laddie in a Meat Hook. This riff on a Manhattan is a great stirred, fruity smoky and nutty cocktail,” says Chernoff.
The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve
40% ABV, $69.99, 750 mL
“My favourite single malt to mix with is The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve,” says Abergel, owner of Quench Bar, based in Toronto (@quench.bar). “I find it has a mildly sweet finish with notes of vanilla, toffee and caramel, which is why I love to use it in scotch-forward cocktails. That being said, my favourite single malt to drink neat is the Oban 14 Year Old. I love the rich smokiness both on the nose and on the palate.”
Suggested cocktail: Rob Roy Visits Toronto. “Generally, our scotch cocktails are very spirit forward. We love doing a mix of a Rob Roy and a Toronto cocktail using the Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve, Fernet-Branca, Dolin sweet vermouth and Amaro Cinpatrazzo instead of bitters.”
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or
46% ABV, $119.99, 750 mL
“My top pick for single malt has to be Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or,” says Flynn, senior bartender at The Drake Hotel in Toronto (@ashhflynn). “Give it a good sniff, and you’ll be met with hints of lemon, lime, spices and the nostalgia of dried raisins. Take a sip, and you’re greeted with an upfront burst of spice, featuring ginger and nutmeg, only to be followed by a smooth, lingering vanilla finish. It’s a delightful blend of sweet and complexity, like a vanilla-spiced firework. I’m a fan because of its distinctive, multi-layered, honey-smooth character. Nectar d’Or first matures in American bourbon barrels and then is finished in Sauternes barrels, formerly home to a sweet French wine. What really grabs me is how those dried fruits, spices and vanilla nuances come to life.”
Suggested cocktail: Rob Roy. “In my view, the Rob Roy cocktail is the ideal canvas for those Sauternes notes to shine and for the full flavour profile of this single malt to be unveiled,” Flynn says. “Sweet vermouth elevates the rich dried fruit and honey notes, while aromatic bitters act as the culinary artists, bringing out the ginger and nutmeg nuances. Stirred just right and served in an ice-cold coupe glass, a couple of bourbon-soaked cherries on top complete the picture.”
She adds: “When diving into the world of whisky cocktails, it’s all about picking ingredients that dance in harmony with the whisky, letting its true character shine through.”
—Compiled by Reece Sims