But these are boom times for Scotch exports, and producers and bartenders are cottoning on to the opportunities afforded by using the complex flavours of whisky to create satisfying and sophisticated mixed drinks.
Scotch is one of the few drinks categories defined by law.
This can be looked upon as protection or restriction. But whichever point of view you take, the result is legal definition of the different processes and ingredients involved in the production of Scotch whisky.
Given these limitations, the vast range of flavours and characters created by different distilleries is perhaps even more surprising.
In blended Scotch, for example, the principal cause of variation is the proportion, number and character of the malt whiskies used in each blend.
The skill of the master blender is legendary – it involves using only the nose to match and blend up to several hundred varying and diverse whiskies to create a consistent and unchanging character, giving customers confidence that the next bottle bearing the brand name will taste the same as the last one.
For a long time, Scotch has had a reputation of being a strong man’s drink; powerful, complex and difficult to mix.
But this is not the case.
A number of Scotch-based cocktails have come out of America, albeit they have tended to represent a slightly ‘kilt ‘n’ heather’ view of Scotland, with names like the Rob Roy and the Robbie Burns. If you can get past the names, though, there are some great drinks here.
A Rob Roy is a firmer, drier Manhattan, lacking the residual sweetness of bourbon and is as manly as Old Spice.
Blended Scotch is increasingly popular as a base for long drinks, and works extremely well in Bucks and Highballs as well as classics like the Horse’s Neck.
Scotch is also the base for the classic Hot Toddy – an excellent drink that, at its best, epitomises balance, brings out the qualities of the base spirit and is much too good to be used only as a cold cure.
Blended whisky producers are now actively trying to give their brands a modern and mixable image – they have to do this if they want to stay on top.
Here are a couple of my favourite whisky cocktails:
• The Naked Old Fashioned
Ingredients: 50ml The Naked Grouse, dash bitters, 10ml sugar syrup, orange zest. Method: slowly stir all ingredients together for 30 seconds and garnish with orange zest.
• The Smoky Sour
Ingredients: 50ml The Black Grouse, one egg white (optional), 15ml lemon juice, 15ml pink grapefruit juice, 10ml vanilla syrup. Method: shake all ingredients for 10 seconds, strain into cocktail glass and garnish with grapefruit zest.