Purists who say don't mess with malt should think again, says Don Kavanagh.

I've often been accused of being a snob about whisky. It's a fair call, although I would point out that I'm not as snobbish as some about the great spirit. Some people refuse to acknowledge blended whiskies as being worthy of respect and some complete fanatics refuse to countenance Irish whiskey as a drink at all.

But when it comes to drinking whisky I've tended to stick to malts - neat or with a drop of water.

This isn't necessarily snobbery, but I've always had an issue with drowning really good spirits of any sort in fizzy sugar-water. I've often begged people not to put coke into malts and I've even stared aghast at bartenders who offer me ice in my malt. That's because single malts all have an individual flavour and no two taste quite the same.

The type of barley used, the water, the size and shape of the stills and the barrels they age in all combine to give a distinct flavour to each malt and I hate to lose that in a drink.


However, I've been rethinking that after a couple of interesting sessions. The first, at the Tasting Shed in Kumeu, was a revelation. It was a food and whisky night where the whisky was used not as an accompaniment but as an ingredient. I've had whisky and food plenty of times, but whisky in food was a bit special.

Talisker smoked salmon, pheasant with Cragganmore sprayed on it and the dark, brooding and distinctly medicinal Lagavulin used in a dessert combining apples, quince and Roquefort cheese proved to me that whisky doesn't necessarily have to be served straight in a nice glass.

The other session was a cocktail experiment at Racket Bar, where we tasted malts straight and then used them in cocktails.

Ordinarily I'd go straight for the blended stuff for cocktails, but the individual flavours came across well in such concoctions as a tobacco-infused Old Fashioned. So I'll admit that I actually do like single malts in cocktails.

Whisky has always been an adaptable drink, so experiment with new flavours and you'll find a new world of ways to enjoy your old favourites.