I visited a new distillery this week on a day when Melbourne nearly melted. The New World Whisky Distillery – makers of the popular brand – has just relocated to a much larger, more accessible site in Port Melbourne near the CBD. Unfortunately, on the day I visited it was 38 degrees and my commitment to the whisky cause was severely tested.
But the folks at this new spot were on point (it opens to the public this weekend if you're in the area). When I went to order at the swanky new bar, desperate for refreshment, the bartender obliged by suggesting a Highball – basically a whisky and soda. He then took a large, almost perfectly translucent cube of ice, rested it in a chilled glass, poured some Starward whisky over it, and topped it with Capi soda water – also a local product.
I tell ya, if there's a better antidote to a balmy as heck afternoon, I don't know about it.
Because whisky originally hails from miserably cold places, there's a misconception out there that it doesn't pair well with the warmer months. Au contraire my friends, there's plenty of ways to enjoy whisky during an Australian summer. Here's a few options to play with.
It's hilarious when folks get proscriptive about the 'right' way to enjoy whisky. Geez, chill out. If it's hot, or you like drinking whisky on ice, go for it. After all, we don't live in a place where a few weeks of gentle rain and a day of sunshine passes for a summer.
But look to use good quality ice where possible. A lot of top bars use fancy, expensive machines to make ice, or even order it in from companies who use even fancier machines to create the crystal clear, perfectly cut stuff. You can taste the difference.
For home, buy some silicone ice moulds to create those large ice cubes and spheres (and make sure your freezer doesn't smell like something died in it). The larger surface area of the ice will dilute the spirit more slowly and prevent it from turning into whisky-flavoured water.
But if adding ice isn't your deal, then try a few whiskies better suited to the warmer weather.
Lighter, flowery, fruity malts like Balvenie, Glenlivet, Aberfeldy, Balblair, Clynelish and Scapa from Scotland are worth a go, as are international options like Hakushu from Japan, Redbreast from Ireland or Bakery Hill from Australia.
On the blended side of things, Great King Street The Artist's Blend is all vanilla and berries and quite lovely, while Johnnie Walker's new Red Rye Finish is much softer and creamier than the marketing portrays, and would make a nice summer quaffer next to a considerately paired brew.
The beauty of the classic Highball, as shown above, is in its refreshing simplicity. But there's many different ways to approach this very old serve (the drink can trace it roots back to the 1890s).
At its most simple, you can just take still water and add a generous dose to your whisky over ice to make what the Japanese refer to as a mizuwari – it works brilliantly paired with food.
For most Highballs, about one part whisky to three parts water will do the trick – be sure to use a quality soda, though, and a chilled glass for extra effect.
And as for the whisky you use, try to avoid heavily sherried, port, wine-influenced whiskies – they tend to get all flabby and confused when lengthened with soda. Some of my favourite options are Hakushu Distillers Reserve or Nikka Coffey Grain from Japan. Even the Glenlivet Founder's Reserve will work excellently.
Ginger ale is another amenable mixer. The good old Horse's Neck – whisky and quality ginger ale garnished with a long lemon peel – is making a comeback. Try it with a nice rye whiskey like Rittenhouse, or I've long avowed the use of Highland Park 12 with ginger ale. Trust me, try it. Is good.
In a cocktail
While whisky is often pigeonholed as a base for winter cocktails, there are some surprisingly tasty options that work in summer, too.
Give a Boulevardier a try this festive season – basically a bourbon or rye Negroni – or ask your favourite barkeep to mix up a Whisky Collins or Whisky Cobbler. Tasty, refreshing options.
I'm also quite partial to the odd Whisky Fizz in the summertime. It's basically a spritzed-up Whisky Sour. I love to make them with egg white and Nikka from the Barrel for texture and zing. Directions below if you still need convincing.
60 ml Nikka from the Barrel
30 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
10 ml sugar syrup (2:1) (or about 1 teaspoon)
1 egg white
Dry shake the Nikka, lemon juice, sugar and egg white. Then add ice, shake again and strain into a glass (over ice is optional). Top with soda.
A professional barman in one of Australia's most revered whisky establishments, Luke McCarthy has also travelled the world to learn more about the spirits he serves. The result is two parts drinks culture and one part global trends, served with a dash of critical assessment. His book, The Australian Spirits Guide, will be released in October.