Toasting the northern lights: bars and bartenders in Scotland's cities join the international drinks revolution.
At venues such as the classic Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, bartenders are fairly particular. The house Rob Roy is made with Glenmorangie Port Wood Single Malt Whisky, giving the drink a rich, sweet edge.
Or take Edinburgh's Tiger Lilly, a multi-functional bar, restaurant and hotel. Here, more than half the 17-page drink menu is filled with loving descriptions of hand-made cocktails. Bartenders shake, stir and strain their drinks using homemade jellies, marinades, preserves, fresh fruits and infused sugars, among other ingredients.
One way Scottish bartenders are likely to experiment is by employing single malt and blended whiskies. At Tiger Lilly, the menu includes such potentially heretical drinks as Smokey & the Bandit--chilled Bruichladdich Islay Malt served in a flute accompanied by a cold Margarita-like mix of Sauza Hornitos Tequila, Grand Marnier, rhubarb and orange preserve in a separate glass. Sipped alternately or with the Laddie added to the cocktail as a float, the combo is unexpected, if not necessarily an instant favorite.
Across the country in the new money city of Glasgow, the streets flood on a Saturday night with locals bouncing from club to pub to nightclub. A leading destination includes the chandelier-bedecked bar One Up. Scotch whisky cocktails are less in evidence; instead, such things as Raspberry Lynchburg, made with Jack Daniel's, Chambord, lime juice and lemonade satisfy. In fact, many bars in Scotland offer "Lynchburg" concoctions, signaling how strong the Tennessee whiskey is in the U.K. Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace also appear on numerous bar menus.
Of course, it's easy to establish a knock-out cocktail list, it's another matter to execute complicated drinks. At the bar in the Mal Maison hotel, bartenders measure all ingredients carefully if quickly, shake their drinks hard and fast, employ tricks like pouring Champagne down a spiral bar spoon to reduce the bubbles in a cocktail and are quick with advice.
Mal Masion also promotes its own multi-city bar staff by including their recipes on each hotel bar menu. Mal Maison Manchester bartender Susan Ludwig's Jimmy Hendricks (Hendricks Gin, Jim Beam, lime juice and simple syrup) went down smooth, as did Lorcan Feely's Fawlty Basil (Zubrowka Vodka, Wyborowa Apple Vodka, lime juice and torn basil).
While cocktails are all the rage, local beers, especially cask conditioned ales and strong Scottish ales, are widely available and much respected, served even in the classiest places like Glasgow's Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire. Iconic pubs, like Glasgow's famous Horseshoe and Edinburgh's Guildford Arms, serve as many as a dozen hand-pulled brews including Caledonian XPA, Nimbus String Pale Ale and Killellan Bitter.
Those worried about the future of ale in its homeland need not worry too much; the American craft brew boom has made its way here, just as international lagers threaten to swamp the market. Even on the remote western island of Islay, where powerfully smokey and maritime whiskies attract international devotees, Islay Ales are making their way to the mainland to join the flavorful fray.
Jack Robertiello is web editor of www.adamsbevgroup.com and former editor of Cheers. He can be reached at email@example.com.