A few weeks ago, I went to a dinner at Daniel Boulud's new Bowery joint, DBGB Kitchen and Bar. Accompanying the food were several cocktails, some made with Laphroaig. Full bottles of the single malt Scotch sat on the table as well. At the end of the meal, a press agent who represents Laphroaig in New York asked me if I thought the whiskey had a future as a cocktail ingredient. I said no. It belonged by itself in a glass, or on the rocks.
I'd like to eat my words. In the past few weeks, I've encountered a couple drinks that have reversed my opinion of Laphroaig as a mixer. I now believe that the Islay Scotch may very well be the single malt most suited to mixology purposes. The dawning came while I was working on a recent article for the New York Times about significant cocktails of the past decade. Not wanting to overlook the West Coast in my survey, I asked several California cocktail experts about any iconic drinks that came to mind. Journalist Camper English mentioned the "international phenomenon" The Laphroaig Project. This drink was created by Owen Westman of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco about six months ago, and instantly caught fire in the Bay Area. It has since been picked up by bars in London and Germany—thus, it's quasi-international aspect. (I was not compelled to include it in my final article, however, because too many knowing cocktailians I interviewed had not yet heard of it.)
The Laphroaig Project has the added advantage in that it contains only six ingredients, all easily obtained by a civilian. No infused this or fat-washed that. Here's the recipe:
The Laphroaig Project
1 oz Green Chartreuse
1 oz lemon juice
½ oz Laphroaig
½ oz maraschino
¼ oz Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain in to an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon zest twist.
I have made this several times in the last couple weeks. It is an absolutely smashing drink. And, while the two Chartreuses do their work, and the lemon juice played a dominant role, it's the Laphroaig that makes it. Why? Well, basically it's the smoke. Islay single malts are known for their peaty, smoky flavor, and Laphroaig is considered the smokiest of the lot. Smoke is hot right now, and my theory is that mixologists, seeking that smoky component to add depth to their concoctions, are using Laphroaig the same way they are using Mezcal. They're both liquid smoke without being, you know, Liquid Smoke.
Soon after learning about Westman's creation, I was reminded of two earlier drinks which served to jog my memory that folks had been playing around with Laphroaig for some time. One was Audrey Saunders' Dreamy Dorini Smoky Martini, a very good drink (with a over-involved name) that I've posted about before. Not sure when Saunders came up with this one, but I'm guessing the early half of the Aughts, when she was at the Beacon. (Nobody thinks of the Beacon as a cocktail destination, but it's amazing how many of Saunders' signature creations were whipped us during her short reign there.) It's an unlikely mix of Laphroaig and vodka that really works. Again, it's the smoke that makes it.
Dreamy Dorini Smoky Martini
2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce Laphroaig
5 drops of Pernod
1 lemon twist, for garnish
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.
The other Laphroaig harbinger is the Penicillin Cocktail, created by Sam Ross at Milk & Honey. It is perhaps the bartender's best-known creation and well-thought-of by many. Harder to make this one at home, because one has to whip up a batch of ginger-honey syrup. You'll notice the lemon juice again. Something about lemon and Laphroaig go together.
2 ounces blended scotch
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce ginger-honey syrup
1/4 ounce Islay scotch (I used Laphroaig)
Combine blended scotch, lemon juice and syrup in a shaker, fill with ice and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and float Islay scotch on top.
Of the three, I have to give my vote to Westman's drink as the champion. But all are worth ordering, or making. On the evidence of this trio, bartenders should keep experimenting with our friend from Islay with the hard-to-pronounce name.