You tasted more than 100 whiskies for the book. When you sample a whiskey, do you spit it out, as one does with wine?
With these, the finish is quite important so I had to swallow. I did need to reach for the Gaviscon [an antacid] on occasion.
How do you convince people who think they don’t like whiskey to give it a chance?
I say, “Give me 10 minutes and I’ll find one you’ll like.” One of the points in the book is whiskey is a lot more versatile than people think. It’s not this big scary guard dog. It’s a puppy, really. It’s easier if they drink wine, because a lot of the flavors overlap. So if you like Rieslings, then you will like fragrant whiskies, like a Glenlivet. If you’re into big powerful cabernets, you will probably like bourbon.
What’s a drink order that impresses you?
If I was at a bar and someone ordered a blood and sand, I’d turn and give them a nod. And if someone walked up to a bar and asked for a Mamie Taylor, I’d hug them. [The drink is made with Scotch, lime and ginger beer.]
How do you explain whiskey’s recent surge in popularity?
I think there has been a groundswell of interest in products with flavor. Not to denigrate vodka, but a lot of talk about vodka is how beautiful the bottle is. I also think it’s a generational thing. It’s a completely new drink for this generation, because their parents didn’t want to drink what their parents drank.
You’re a big proponent of mixing whiskey, and not just drinking it straight.
Instead of whiskey being this drink you only drink after dinner or for an occasion, think of it as an alternative to a gin and tonic. And there’s this idea that thou shalt not add water to whiskey, but feel free to add more ice or dilute it if that makes it acceptable for you to enjoy. You should be drinking for pleasure, not for pain.
You suggest mixing whiskey with some pretty uncommon ingredients.
Some brands you thought should never be mixed actually show personality when you’re bold enough to add something. Green tea is a good example. It’s the default mixer in Asia, and coconut water is the default mixer in Latin America. It’s quite tough making drinks with them, because when they don’t work, they really don’t work. But when they’re right, there’s nothing better. Every glass teaches me something new.