The Liquorists’ Whisky Trail

When we set out to create a whisky trail our aim was to explode some myths wide open:

Mmmm, arty.

Whisky is only enjoyed by old men, shunning the 21st century, annoyed by the noise the kids are making, scowling at anyone who threatens to add anything to their water of life other than baleful glances. Blended whisky is rubbish. Whisky is something only to be enjoyed in winter and only then after dinner or as a sedative, not to mention that a lady would be much better served with something fruity.

What a load of nonsense.

The trail visited 6 of the city’s best eating and drinking establishments. We kicked things off in Northern Quarter watering hole Apotheca on Thomas St, where we sampled our first dram in very fitting surroundings – Chivas Regal 18 year old a powerhouse of blended whisky. Rich fruity and rounded, the perfect way to kick things off.

Blends transported whisky across the globe, from innumerable royal houses to the glitterati of Hollywood, vegas and paris, sumptuous blends found there way into the hands of the great and good. A truly global spirit, all thanks to the blend…. who would have thought it? The cocktail creation of the talented team at Apotheca was the Little Tart. A combination of Chivas Regal 12 year old, sloe gin, lemon, apple and Chinese 5 spice this was chosen to match up seamlessly with our food pairing of baked pear, wrapped in parma ham with balsamic and parmesan. Now be honest you didn’t expect that from a whisky.

With a spring in our step we bounded to cocktail institution Socio Rehab on High Street for our next instalment. Although renowned and revered for their forward thinking disco treats it is a little known fact that they also have a wonderful selection of some 30 or so Uisge Beatha’s.

‘The single malt that started it all’, The Glenlivet, was next up but no expense had been spared and we again jumped straight into the 18 year old. A special whisky – no idiosyncrasies and awkward smoke – instead an abundance of rich, dry fruit sweetness, cereal, nuts and finesse, and you can get it at ASDA! On offer! Bargain.

Perhaps the simplest pairing of the evening, and for many the best came in the form of the dram and some bitter 80% cocoa chocolate. Classic flavour pairings and incredibly easy to replicate, oh yeah and moreish incredibly moreish. Everyone’s favourite whisky classic was next to be enjoyed.  Blood & Sand the combination  of The Glenlivet 18 year old, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth and freshly squeezed orange juice was good enough for Rudolph Valentino and didn’t disappoint.

After Jody’s best impression of a tour guide, “Now on your left you will note….., and on your right….., Mind the road now everybody, Stick together, 11,12,13,14,15, all present and correct, onwards and upwards driver”, we hopped aboard our executive travel to be whisked to Princess Street and, in particular, Obsidian, the beautiful basement bar arm of the Arora Hotel.

Hmmm, attentive

On the menu: Highland Park 18 year old. Recently received into the spirits hall of fame and described as the best spirit in the world its salty smoke and butterscotch sweetness were a treat to flavour match.

Oily fish was the order of the day and the talented kitchen team created a canapé of smoked mackerel, radish, carrot and sherry vinegar dressed leaf to tantalize the tastebuds and play off every facet and nuance in the complex malt. The cocktail was an award winning creation ‘The Grape and the Grain’, so the story goes the two should never be mixed.

Pish! We cried and smashed red grapes, vanilla sugar, lemon juice, orange bitters, unoaked chardonnay and a big slug of Highland Park 18year old. A revelation indeed, as not only can the two be mixed, but they bloody well should be.

Next stop is a real little gem and particularly well kept secret, Corridor, and it meant hopping borders as we head to Chapel St, Salford. No one knew where this bar was before the trail, one group that attended were unaware despite having an office 100 yards down the road. Now they have discovered it, it is fair to say they will return. In Ian Morgans sultry speakeasy the whisky was Ardbeg.

Marmite of the whisky world some say, a delicacy we say, and true to form it had the room divided. Peat monsters rejoiced, one man wept, and others recoiled. We matched this up with coarse grain Pittenweem oatcake and Lanark blue cheese. A classic combination, that again is so easily replicated, the cocktail however is not. A Smoked Blue Flip – combining Ardbeg 10 year old, egg yolk, double cream and MSK blue cheese oil. Nuts, both in concept and flavour profile. Great drink,  best leaving that one to the professionals though.

By this point the whisky wanderers had sampled 4 cocktails and 4 drams, not bad for £35 and we were only half way through. Now for the grub. Taps on Watson Street was our next port of call for some traditional Scottish fayre. Whisky and ginger wet the whistles of those enjoying the haggis, neeps and tatties with an Aberfeldy 12 year old whisky cream, and if the empty plates were anything to go by it was very well received, and the perception for many of haggis turned on its head.

We weren’t finished yet though and the pudding a raspberry cranachan was matched with the fruity and almost tropically sweet highland single malt from the house of Dewars, Aberfeldy 12 year old. The Stone Fruit Sour with the whisky, apricot brandy, Campari, lemon and orange provided a beautiful sherbet to compliment the sweet dessert.

Up the stairs to Epernay we sauntered and nestled comfortably into some wingbacks. Our final venue for our final dram, and what a drop, the epic Drambuie 15. The name derived from the Gaelic ‘An dram buidheach’, meaning the drink that satisfies, they weren’t kidding, and we smashed another myth.

This isn’t the Drambuie many anticipate, nowhere near as sweet and sticky as one of the worlds best selling liqueurs, the 15 however has the honour by being named by yours truly as the worlds  finest expression of whisky liqueuer. A blend of the princes elixir and minimum 15 year old Speyside single malts, served simply over ice and paired with a square of homemade tablet (Scottish fudge) it is a dream dram to end the trail. Many a contented sigh followed and we were all in agreement ‘quite an evening, slainte’.

All the recipes and contact details of the venues are available to download by clicking here.

Next up, Vodka: from decadent to disco and back again, in September. Where we do it all again for £35, not bad we say – what do you think?