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How to Pair Your Whiskey With a Cocktail

Does the spirit really make a difference in a cocktail? Absolutely! When preparing a cocktail, if done right, you should be able to either taste a little bit of everything in each sip, or an entirely new flavor because each ingredient was carefully selected to complement each other.

What is so fantastic about this exercise is that we have an absolute plethora of new whiskies from around the world that are available to us, many with unique flavors from Master Blenders, Distillers and self-taught creative experts taking bold steps in whisk(e)y.

Long gone are the days when we only had one (and a half) categories of American whiskey to choose from and we had to rely on the nuances of flavor to decipher differences.

So let’s open our hearts and our minds and get our palates ready for new, exciting and interesting flavors as we explore pairing whiskey with cocktails in this weekly series

For our first pairing, let’s take a journey to the Pacific Northwest coast. Begin to imagine the color of the ocean in the PNW, the smell of pine, moss and earthy rain water. Not quite Scotland, not quite Ireland - there is something a little bit different.

Westland Distillery has its home in Seattle, with its barrels resting along the ocean.

Their barley comes from the Skagit valley, a fertile swath of farmland which is tucked between the ocean and the Cascade Mountain Range. Imagine what flavors come from such terroir.

We have chosen our whiskey, Westland’s American Single Malt, with tasting notes such as almond nougat, crème brûlée, black tea, some hints of floral notes and milk chocolate.

So in this case instead of pairing to match flavor to flavor, knowing that this whiskey has bold flavors, I am going to do an opposites attract approach. I want to add stone fruits, citrus flavors and lighten up the body for the summer weather. Seasons play a huge part in the whiskey I tend to grab from the shelf and, of course, the flavors I crave.

Another important factor is how big of a star the whiskey should be in the show. In this case, with something so special and dynamic in flavor, I want the whiskey to be the main attraction.

Here is what I will craft:

PNW Highball

1.5 oz Westland American Single Malt

.5 oz Amaro Nonino

4 dashes orange bitters

Club soda

Method: add all spirit ingredients to a mixing glass with a handful of cubed ice, stir well until chilled. Strain into a highball or Collins glass over ice, top with club soda, garnish with a lemon slice.

I love how the saltiness of the club soda brings out the sweet nougat in the whiskey and the orange in both the bitters and the Amaro just punches that chocolate right out of the whiskey. It’s whiskey forward, it has depth and complexity, refreshing for the warm weather and the star of the show is the whiskey!



Sailor Guevara, a veteran of the spirits and hospitality industry, is the 2020 winner of the World of Whiskey Icon award – bestowed on the individual who most capably advances understanding and appreciation for the craft of whiskey making. She is an author and contributor to American Whiskey Magazine and an acclaimed podcast host and published mixologist. Sailor’s passion for whiskey and spirits history is unmatched and easily contagious when she’s in a room. In late 2020, Sailor launched her own company, Sailor Guevara Experiences, providing virtual cocktail and spirits experiences and custom experience boxes.

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