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Putting Dave Broom’s Whisky Mixers to the Test

Reading and reviewing Dave Broom’s latest book, Whisky: The Manual was a life-changing experience for me.

I am a drinker of single malt unmolested. But after I was “given permission” by Guru Broom to take my whisky in mixed drinks, I broadened my horizons and been made richer as a consequence.

I have enjoyed experimenting with the five main mixers that he sampled with the 202 whiskies mentioned in the book. And I tried each with a number of whiskies, including some that were not featured.

The blend Great King St., which is light, oaky and bourbony, tastes so much like a low-sugar American Cream Soda when mixed with club soda I could barely believe it. And when I looked it up in Broom’s book, he made the same comparison. Otherwise we sometimes differed in our preferences, even if we typically have similar tastes.

For instance, he scored Johnnie Walker Black Label with a high 5 for coconut water, but scored the Red Label as only a 2. I found that Red Label, when left to marry with the coconut water and melting ice, turns into a liquid form of a Brach’s caramel candy. And it might make them a lot of money if they bottled it as a liqueur along the lines of Bailey’s Irish Cream. But I also liked the Black Label in coconut water a great deal too.

Of the whiskies included in my tastings not sampled by Broom, the three most significant were Buchanan’s, Campbeltown Loch, and Bank Note, all of them blended scotch.

Buchanan’s is one of the old original scotch brands, just like Walker, Dewar’s, and Chivas. It is the most popular brand of whisky in Mexico, and it is finally making some headway the U.S. even if many parts of the country never see it. Generally speaking, it’s rather light and grainy, but the malt whisky contribution has a very nice balance of sherry, wood, spice, herbals, and notes of peat smoke, but by no means is it as outwardly smoky as White Horse or Teacher’s Highland Cream. Everything but the grain seems to be about hints and essence when it comes to flavoring. Still, I consider it a blend of quality and not the scotch flavored swill of some brands riding on an old name, but putting out corporate-excreted well scotch.

Just like on the rocks, the 12 year old expression was mildly pleasant in all of the mixers, with ginger ale and soda topping the list. But the richer 18 year old expression makes what may be my favorite ginger ale highball of any blended whisky. Using Broom’s scale I give it a 5*, but coconut water did not work very well at all. So in that case I would give it a 1 for Avoid.

Campeltown Loch was once only obtainable by visiting the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown, where it is made and bottled. But now, it is available in the world marketplace. It is a young, snappy and impermanent blend with a gingery spiciness and a hot, peppery palate tamed a bit by some pear mead sweetness. It offers some essence of American bourbon from a refill cask, and the smoky earth and seaweed peat of its malt components, Springbank and Longrow. I found it very good in ginger ale, and it spices up soda water quite nicely as well. While I drink it in coconut water now and again, it is not on my short list for that mixer.

Bank Note, which will be formally reviewed at One Man’s Malt in the coming weeks, is a very affordable blend from an independent bottler of single malt, A.D. Rattray. It is not very well known, even among UK whisky aficionados, but it is terrific, especially for the price. It would qualify for the flavor camp B3 – Rich and Fruity, in Broom’s parlance. It is malty, with a good dose of sherry and orange peel and heads more toward a Black Label sort of profile, if not nearly as refined or as smoky.

It is 40% single malts with clearly good quality grain whisky for the remainder, and it is officially 5 years old, which is one reason they chose the name, Bank Note, with artwork similar to an old 5 Pound Note, just like the brand of whisky of that same name from 100 years ago. It has more character and meat on the bone than any blended scotch close to it in price, found in some shops for $20 per liter. Unfortunately, it is not found in many shops at all.

But when it comes to mixing, it absolutely excelled in every respect.

In three separate tastings hosted in New York City and Connecticut, almost everyone preferred Bank Note over other blends and single malts in every mixer. One woman preferred Teachers with ginger ale because of the smoke. One man hated everything that got near coconut water. But otherwise, Bank Note took the most top honors, in every tasting where it was present.

Bank Note was the only whisky that anyone actually liked with green tea. While I found some others  interesting, Bank Note and green tea morphed into a drink truly different from either of its components. While I did not pick it as my first choice for ginger ale, soda, or coconut water, it rated very high for me in every instance. Similar to its green tea mix, a taster said Bank Note was the one whisky that did not seem like it was enveloped by the coconut water, or was doing the enveloping; they blended together and became well integrated (the other options that evening were Great King St. and Buchanan’s 12.) And it was the clear winner in cola, which really doesn’t do much for me as a mixer.

When it comes to my being a straight scotch sort of drinker who is learning to love the benefits of mixed drinks, here are my thoughts on the various mixers.

Soda Water

Since American club soda is made with bicarbonate of potassium, thanks to the modern obsession with all things sodium-free, it is a bit too bitter than classic soda water for many modern drinkers. Therefore, seltzer (carbonated purified water without the added minerals) was better received when making a whisky and soda. Besides, it is the bubbles that matter here, more than minerals or a lack thereof.

The bubbles act as a flavor delivery device, while also adding a wake up call to the tastes buds. And, according to Broom’s sources, the carbonic acid created by infusing water with carbonation invokes a mild toxic reaction on the tongue, which the brain counters by releasing endorphins. In other words, when we drink fizzy drinks we feel happy. And it follows that when we drink fizzy drinks with whisky in them we are happier still.

Since club soda and seltzer are sugar-free, it tends to work best with sweeter whiskies like Irish whisky, bourbon, and particularly scotch with a lot of bourbon cask influence, as well as smokier scotch for people who dislike drinks deemed overly sweet.

Ginger Ale

Ginger ale is a fizzy drink that adds sugary sweetness matched with some spicy snap. It has been used to mix with whisky since it was first invented in Northern Ireland in 1852, and the modern “dry” form was designed with whisky in mind and vice versa. So it is not surprising that many people take to the combination like ducks to water. And it excels with both spicy whiskies and smoky ones.

Jamaican style ginger ale and ginger beer is made up largely of lemon and or lime juice, so they have a very different affect when mixed, but some whiskies work well with them none the less, just as some highballs made with Canada Dry ginger ale take to a wedge of lime thrown in the mix.


I am not much of a cola drinker, but it does work well with some whiskies, particularly those that are themselves heavy and full bodied. Before you get out the torches and pitchforks at Dave Broom’s recommendation of 16 yo Lagavulin and Coke, give it a try. You may just be surprised.

I was surprised to find Jack and Coke ranking rather low, considering its popularity in the States. So if you like it, you may want to try Wild Turkey or Jim Beam White Label, both of which get a high 5 rating from Broom when mixed with cola. But for me ginger ale is the soda pop for spiking.

While not for everyone, the remaining options are not carbonated, and not something most westerners have ever considered for use as mixers, at least those of us in the northern hemisphere. But they are certainly interesting in terms of mouth feel, flavor, and how they affect the character of a whisky.

Green Tea

The green tea and whisky combo is unusual to say the least. It often tastes either like green tea with some booze in it, or booze with some tea in it. But when it works it can really work, and melds with the whisky to become a new and completely different drink (as per Bank Note,)  and one that is very good when severed very cold on a very hot day.

It should be pointed out that the green tea used for whisky in the Far East is NOT the grassy green Japanese variety that is found throughout the U.S. Rather it is a cold Oolong that is mildly sweetened. So my tastings were done with either unsweetened Oolong sometimes adding sugar, or with the sweet Japanese varieties.

Coconut Water

It is coconut water that proved most successful for me. How can millions of Brazilians be wrong, eh?

Where the others are best served chilled and on ice, coconut water absolutely requires it.

I have learned I do not care much at all for coconut water, when drunk on its own. But mixed 1 to 1 with whisky, or sometimes 2 to 1, it becomes a lovely, sweet beverage with a velvety creaminess that really needs to be experienced. It works particularly well with smoky whisky and spicy whisky, but rarely disappoints with lighter, oaky, or fruity whisky. And, as one taster put it, you can hydrate while dehydrating.

I have taken to using some traditional ethnic brands of coconut water like Goya or Jamaica, as they include some young coconut pulp, which adds a certain festive confetti appearance to the glass. But they are sweeter, with more added sugar than the hipster on a health kick brands like Vita Coco, even though most have at least some sugar included. Zico has less sugar, but I didn’t care for it as a mixer.

If more bars had coconut water on hand I would likely be drinking it with whisky when away from home as well as my new love, the highball.

I must recommend trying whisky and coconut water to everyone who is reading this article and finding it impossible to imagine the combination could possibly work. You are likely no less skeptical than I was, and may find yourself as pleasantly surprised as I and my several tasters have been.

Even if I continue my favorite pass time of sipping single malt neat from a Glencairn tasting glass, my summers will now and forever include coconut water and blended scotch on the rocks, along with classic highballs made from ginger ale or soda.

And that is one man’s word on…

Putting Dave Broom’s whisky mixers to the test

Related Reading:

Whisky: The Manual – My Review

2 Responses to Putting Dave Broom’s Whisky Mixers to the Test

  1. Audrius May 4, 2015 at 3:00 am #

    By ‘soda water’ you mean simply something like St Pellegrino (carbonated water that doesn’t taste mineralic) et al?

    What are the blends in particular you’d recommend with coconut water? Famous Grouse, Black Label or Black Grouse should do well? How about Teacher’s?

    Thanks. This article was just the what I was looking for at this time of year!

    • One Man May 22, 2015 at 10:36 am #

      Sorry for the delay in replying, the One Man’s Guitar projects have been taking up all my time of late.

      Personally, I found the rich, malty blends like Black Label and and the lesser known Bank Note to work very well with coconut water. But if you like smoky whisky, Teacher’s Highland Cream is well worth the try. The best thing to do is try out whisky expressions you already like and see what works for you. I found the Grouse and Black Grouse working very well with ginger ale – as in a Presbyterian, which is half soda, half gingerale, and either a lemon or lime wedge.

      By “soda water” I am referring to what is called “soda” in Great Britain and “club soda” in the United States. It is carbonated water with some minerals added to it. Traditionally it contained sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda, as an aid to digestion.

      Due to the anti-sodium ways of today, almost all club soda in America is made with potassium bicarbonate instead, which tastes quite different, and I find it unsuitable for mixed drinks. So I simply drink plain carbonated water, which is called “selzter” in New York City. It adds the fizz with little or no flavor at all. And if you order scotch and soda in NYC today you almost always get seltzer, the young bartenders having never known there is supposed to be a difference between club soda and seltzer.

      But other sparkling mineral water may suite one’s taste and will likely mix better with some whisky expressions more than others. My brother drinks his Bushmills with Perrier all the time.

      Early in the reign of Queen Victoria, sodium bicarbonate was determined to be an aid to digestion. It also became the primary treatment prescribed for gout, which was linked to a diet heavy in meat and alcoholic drinks. That is why it was called the rich man’s malady.

      Brandy and soda became the aperitif of choice for the English gentleman, until the vineyards of Cognac were destroyed by aphid blight in the mid-1860s. After which, they turned to whisky.

      So, much like how the gin and tonic was invented to get Englishman in the tropics to drink their daily dose of quinine water, the main treatment for malaria and other fevers, the whisky and soda was invented as a way to take what was basically an alka-seltzer before or after dinner, or make some effort to counter the gouty effects of drinking too much spirit.

      Also, drinking whisky and soda, or coconut water, or mixed with some other soft drink extends the experience, adding hydration and cutting down on the amount of spirit imbibed from any one glass. So it works well in hot weather, but also in social settings where others are drinking large glasses of beer or wine, while someone such as myself wants to stick with whisky.

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