The Scotch and Soda Variations

In China, scotch is often paired with green tea on ice (something the UK’s Telegraph was calling new in 2007). In Brazil, they add coconut water. These odd styles of enjoying scotch are charming, innovative examples of non-European cultures making whisky their own. They were mentioned in a short Liquor.com piece last week, Charles MacLean’s Five Scotch Myths (number two: whisky should be drunk straight).

I decided to give both ways a try, comparing them to my more traditional standby, scotch and soda. I used two blended scotches for this experiment. I started with Teacher’s, my favorite budget blend, and moved on to Famous Grouse, which is my current favorite blend.

Green Tea

You know how some things that are very different—like peanut butter and jelly—really go well together, creating wondrous new flavor harmonies? Scotch and green tea aren’t like that.

I opted for a bottled green tea from Ito En, a Japanese maker. A 1:1 ratio of scotch to tea tasted oddly neutral—not quite tea, not quite scotch. This tea has no sugar, so the faint sweetness that came out was probably from scotch. Adding more tea made it almost disgusting, then I either got used to it or it somehow mellowed out. At worst, the green tea and scotch was like the sort of concoction you’d make by mixing all the half-empty glasses on a table after a meal, daring your drunken friends to slam. At best it’s just not that good to me. Teacher’s and tea tasted slightly better than Famous Grouse and tea.

What’s the proper ratio? I’m guessing there’s no science to it, it’s just a shot of whisky over ice and topped off with green tea. I didn’t see enough potential to try adding a proper dose of simple syrup but I did throw a sugar cube in. It didn’t help.

Coconut Water

About a year ago, cocktail historian and Esquire contributor David Wondrich wrote up his own coconut water experiment, listing what spirits it worked best with. Highest on the list was rum (no surprise) and genever (a bit of a surprise), followed by pisco, gin, scotch, and cognac—in that order. Rye and bourbon were among the worst: he said the latter combination tasted like peanut butter, in a bad way.

Wondrich used Zico brand coconut water, but I tried Vita Coco, which, as Wondrich notes is a little sweeter. It’s my preferred coconut water, partly because unlike Zico, it’s not from concentrate.

A 1:1 ratio of Teacher’s blended scotch and coconut water wasn’t bad. It was certainly better tasting than green tea. Vita Coco’s sweetness came out nicely mixed with scotch. However, the flavor made me crave a little less, so I tried it again with about half as much coconut water. I liked that better, but I would—my usual cocktail is an Old Fashioned, and if I added a splash of bitters, I’d practically be there.

When I re-read Wondrich’s Esquire piece, I realized he went precisely the opposite direction: two parts coconut water to one part spirits. I tried it all again with Famous Grouse scotch, but it didn’t make much difference. Less is more to me here.

And then I tried adding some coconut water to a bit of aged Haitian rum. Wow! It’s remarkably good. This I would do again. Scotch? Probably not—unless I were to explore the idea of a scotch and coconut water Old Fashioned. But if I’m doing that, why not use rum?

Soda

Scotch and soda is not something I usually make at home. If I’m mixing whiskey, it’s more often bourbon or rye, and typically in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan—if not some more obscure cocktail I’m trying out. No, I mostly drink scotch and soda out at the sort of bar I don’t trust to do a proper cocktail right. Along with the Rusty Nail (scotch and Drambuie), it’s my go-to emergency cocktail for non-cocktail bars.

At home, a scotch and soda almost seems like a wasted opportunity for something more creative (like a Collins). Or something neat. But next to green tea and coconut water, it was just right.

As a benchmark, I tried both Teacher’s and Famous Grouse with some Perrier (generously provided, coincidentally, by their publicist). Perrier, a favorite of both James Bond and Ernest Hemingway, has much less sodium, I’m told, than club soda from Schweppes. This slim can pictured here is new for Perrier, and perfect for cocktails.

Man, after suffering through some very unsatisfying scotch combinations, this was a relief. Scotch and soda never tasted so good. Famous Grouse, in particular, was delicious with soda. I’ll be writing more about Famous Grouse later.

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2 Responses to The Scotch and Soda Variations

  1. Holly says:

    Thanks for sharing the results of your experiement! I was just playing around with coconut water myself this week…they make flavored ones now too; not sure if I could recommend that as a mixer, but it’s a decent recovery drink from a good workout! Did you use light rum or dark?

    • Hi Holly, I used Barbancourt’s 8-year-old rum from Haiti, which is fairly dark. I wouldn’t be afraid to try mixing a flavored coconut water with this, but I wouldn’t try that with any other spirit.

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