There’s something to be said for the single malt whisky. One of the most revered spirits in the world, it knows no bounds to ways in which it can be enjoyed. From a phenomenal whisky cocktail to the definitive whisky neat, whisky aficionados know just how special this classic spirit is.
Our friends over at Highland Park Scotch Whisky most definitely share our passion for the drink, but they also share our passion for mixing things up. Since 1798, Highland Park has been producing whisky from their distillery in the Orkney Islands, the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland. And from the very first distillation this whisky producer has been straying from the beaten path.
According to legend, the founder of Highland Park, Magnus Eunson, was a simple town butcher who would by day preach against the evils that come from drinking, while under the cover of night he would take on the role of an illicit whisky distiller. He did all of this in the hope of saving his townspeople from the villainy of the alcohol taxman.
Not only does this distillery boast roots dating back to the vikings that made their claim on Scotland, but, in the words of Steph Ridgway, it was also founded by a “badass bootlegging priest who wanted to stick it to the man.”
That alone makes us want to buy the stuff.
Steph is a whisky connoisseur and ambassador of Highland Park who has built her career around telling the story of Highland Park whisky and re-inventing ways in which American’s view and consume the product. Steph’s latest feat: introducing Americans to the unique art of pairing whisky with craft beer; an accomplishment she has been slowly chipping away at for some time now.
“The US is in a craft-brew-a-palooza right now. Breweries are popping up in basements, it’s gone nuts and it’s crazy. But crazy in a good way. We found that the single malt person who drinks craft beer likes the same things in their beer as the person who likes to drink single malt. It’s about complexity, flavor profile, aroma, what season it is, what mood I’m in, did I get my ass kicked today or did I kick somebody’s ass? What is it? They appreciate the same things,” explains Steph.
The idea of pairing craft beer with whisky originated in Highland Park’s homeland of Scotland. During her many travels to Highland Park’s headquarters Steph spent some time in a few pubs (on official business of course) where she noticed that it was standard operating procedure to order a half pint of beer and two fingers of whisky.
“That’s the traditional Scottish cocktail. But it’s not about a quick shot and throwing a beer back, it’s more of an actual enjoyment, a ritual, an occasion.”
Steph figured that with the craft beer movement being as crazy as it is in the US, and with the similarities between those who like craft beer and single malt, she could make a play over in the US with the unusual pairings.
“The biggest misconception with whiskys, scotches, bourbons, etcetera is that you should drink it neat, that you should never mix with anything, ice or water, or put it in a cocktail. It’s all about what you like on your palate, not what is right or wrong.”
And so began Steph’s journey to bring the pairing of whisky and beer to the US.
When it comes to the actual pairing of the single malt and craft beer, there is in fact, a science behind it.
“It’s whisky, beer, whisky. So don’t down all your whisky and think you’re going to see magic happen. What the beer does for the whisky and the whisky does for the beer is just an amazing pairing,” says Steph.
It’s all about trial and error, and there is no wrong way to do it. With the amount of craft beers that are out there and the amount of Highland Park that you have access to in New York City, it’s about adventure, traveling, fun and not being afraid to take some risks.
How to Taste
First inhale the scent of the whisky. Then take a small sip and chew on the whisky for three seconds (literally chew on it as if you were eating a piece of gum). This allows for your saliva to start producing and open up the flavors. Take a sip of the beer. Then finish with the whisky. The whisky will transform the beer and the beer will transform the whisky.
Rinse and Repeat.
Highland Park 12 Year Old + Lagunitas IPA
The Taste: Orange and citrus flavors. A little smoky aroma at first taste followed by a sweet honey from the whisky.
The Occasion: Sitting on an outdoor rooftop, relaxing with friends
Highland Park Dark Origins + Nitro Milk Stout
The Taste: Coffee and chocolate flavors. Like a chocolate covered cherry or an adult Yoo-hoo. This could easily be substituted for a dessert.
The Occasion: Reflective thinking next to a warm fireplace while sitting in a big leather chair, smoking a pipe or reading a book
Highland Park 18 Year Old + Dogfish Indian Brown Ale
The Taste: Cherry notes from the whisky followed by caramel notes from the ale
The Occasion: Coming home after a long, stressful day and finally being able to kick back
(That’s Nordic for “Cheers!”)