When most people think of cocktails, they think of long, hot summer’s days by the pool, pina colada or mojito in hand, or sundowners on the back deck with friends. But just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean the mixers are off the menu.
Matt Farrah from Farrah’s Liquor Collective says winter is a great time to indulge in a warming cocktail by the fire, with bourbon, rum and whisky classics at the top of his list.
“Sitting around the fire sipping an old fashioned with mates is the perfect way to spend a winter’s night,” he says.
While he’s no mixologist, Matt says some of the best winter drinks are really simple to make and using quality ingredients can take them to the next level.
“In winter you want to be toasty warm, so things like rum, whisky and bourbon are warming drinks,” he says.
“Using quality ingredients is the key to making the best cocktails at any time of year.
“If you’re going for a whisky or rye bourbon cocktail, like an old fashioned, I’d be using something like a GlenDronach 12-year-old sherry cask whisky because it’s got a richer flavour and more warmth to it.
“I really like a rye whisky sour, as well as an old fashioned. These classic cocktails call for rye bourbon whisky or single malt whisky – you don’t want to use blended whiskys because you want that nice rounded, rich caramel, vanilla, fruit cakey sort of flavour that’s a bit more warming in the mouth.”
The old fashioned is made by mixing whisky, sugar syrup, Angostura bitters and a splash of soda water over ice, topped with an orange peel and maraschino cherry garnish.
A whisky sour is traditionally made with whisky or rye bourbon, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white, shaken twice – once without ice, then again with ice and strained into a glass to create a rich, smooth classic cocktail that’s perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Matt also enjoys a hot apple pie cocktail made by heating Moreau Apple Pie Liqueur and serving with ice cream or cream and a hint of cinnamon.
“It’s a really beautiful hot toddy. It’s just like drinking a hot apple pie after dinner,” he says.
When it comes to cocktails, Matt says avoid cheap and nasty ingredients, whether whisky, rum, gin or tequila is your spirit of choice.
“It’s the same as food. If you’re going to go for a lower-grade product, you’re not going to get the flavour profiles that really dance on the palate.
“If you go for blade steak, compared to aged marbled Wagyu, you’re not going to get the full flavour. If you want quality, you’re going to pay more for it. With these simple cocktails, you really want your chosen spirit to shine, so it’s worth choosing quality over quantity.”
Matt says you can taste the difference between blended and quality, single malt whisky.
“It takes time and quality processes to produce that rich flavour, and every spirit is the same,” he says.
“The most extreme you can get is the difference between low and high quality tequila. A good quality tequila is smooth with that agave flavour and can be sipped. The other stuff – that you have to drink with lemon and salt – is nasty.”
He says for about $100 you can get a 15-year-old imported rum that’s “as smooth as silk”.
While top shelf spirits have traditionally been enjoyed by older, refined drinkers, Matt says younger people have changed their attitude towards quality tipples in recent years, with whisky, gins and cocktail bars becoming more popular all over Canberra.
“They don’t seem to be buying cheap bottles of rum or bourbon to have with coke so much anymore,” he says.
“We get younger people coming in to taste our spirits and choosing varieties that they can drink neat or over ice. I think the younger generation is more in-tune with quality spirits because their parents are drinking them, and bars are selling them now. They can taste the difference.
“We’ve got a range of great whiskys from $68 up to whatever you want to spend. The sweet spot is around $130 to $180 for a quality whisky that you can sip around the fire with friends and enjoy with a charcuterie board.”
Matt says modern drinkers are choosing the drier, sour rye bourbons over the sweet varieties, while they prefer high-end, aged rums to sip on.
“People are looking for robust rums with a bit of age. After 12 or 15 years they start tasting more like spiced rums with a soft, caramel flavour that’s perfect for drinking neat or on ice in winter.
“No matter what the spirit, if you’re drinking it neat or in a cocktail, it’s worth doing your research, spending a bit more and enjoying the full flavour.”
If you’re looking for winter cocktail inspiration, head into Farrah’s where Matt and the team can help you choose the perfect spirit or liqueur.
They research, taste and approve every product on their shelves, with more than 800 spirits to choose from, including local, Australian and imported varieties.
“We’ve got one of the largest range of craft spirits in Canberra, including 140 gins, with many available to try before you buy,” Matt says.
Farrah’s Liquor Collective has an extensive variety of whiskys, rums, tequilas and liquors to warm you up on a cold winter’s night.