Grandma's Gussied-up Scotch and Soda

Yesterday was also Grandparents' Day. I have a soft spot for that day because when I was in the third grade, I guess there had been some sort of grade-wide or school-wide announcement that to recognize the holiday, your grandparents were welcome to come sit in on class on a particular afternoon; mine were the only ones who showed up to Ms. Nichols' classroom. These were my mother's parents, who were really the only grandparents I ever had.

As my mother tells it, as seniors her parents came to swap the personalities each had embodied during their child-raising years. My Grandpa had been the fearmongering disciplinarian of my Mom's childhood (imposingly tall, his carriage had borne the obscure menace of a Hitchcock villain) while Grandma was the good cop, the parent you'd go to after the other one had said no, or the parent you'd run and hide behind when the other was chasing you down for a spanking. As I knew them, though, Grandpa was a peaceable, lovable giant and Grandma was a rusty, old broad who could turn on you in an ashy-tipped flick of one of her Vantages.

When I was around nine, we were at my grandparents' for my Grandpa's birthday. In the kitchen helping to get the cake ready with Grandma, my overzealousness had somehow rubbed her the wrong way, and she irascibly blurted out that I should go suck an egg. I thought it was the meanest thing anyone had ever said to me. I retreated to the living room couch, refusing to return to the kitchen for dessert, even though listening to everyone else sing "Happy Birthday" made me feel excruciatingly alone. A little while later, Grandpa came into the living room by himself with a piece of cake for me. That still makes me cry.

As you might have guessed by now, Grandma was the drinker of the two. Put a Scotch and soda in one of her hands, a lit Vantage in the other, sit her bony ass down in front of a Mets game and you'd witness a 75-year-old completely in her cups. I don't think the fact that she drank Scotch and sodas had anything to do with the fact that I went through a yearlong Scotch-and-soda phase in my early 20s; for that, you could thank the tech crew at The Bottom Line in the West Village, where I waited tables. Likewise, the fact that I never really liked the taste of Scotch and sodas really was just a tastebud thing, not some psychological harbinger of what-have-you.

So I guess, Grandma, if you're reading this from that big, old Citi Field game box in the sky, you may consider Grandma's Gussied-up Scotch and Soda my olive branch to your egg suck. True, I didn't make this drink in one of your old cruise-ship highballs (btw, you swiped those, didn't you?), but I did make it big, so you'll never need get up in the middle of an inning to refresh your glass.

Grandma's Gussied-up Scotch and Soda

2 ounces The Arran Malt Single Malt Scotch Whisky

3/4 ounce Otima 10 Year Tawny Port

2 dashes orange blosssom water

2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

Club soda, to fill

Lemon twist, to garnish

Combine Scotch, port, orange blossom water and bitters in a tall, ice-filled Collins glass. Stir briskly. Top with club soda and garnish with lemon twist.

Tasting Notes

I'll talk about this more some other time, but The Arran Malt: This is a Scotch that we received from one of Sean's cousins as a wedding gift (albeit late enough to qualify as a first-anniversary gift; thanks, Chris!). Chris' father's family stems from the Isle of Arran where it's distilled. Sean and I have become big, big fans of this Scotch whisky... because it tastes so much like bourbon whiskey! Low on the peaty and high on the caramelly. Yum.

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The Pan Am

I've yet to mention scotch on this blog. There are a couple of reasons why. One: Bourbon exists, so what's the point? Two: Scotch precipitates a taste-memory flashback to my first year of living in New York, specifically the hours between midnight and 5 a.m. of that year, a year I'm happy to leave fuzzy, hazy and behind.

Back then I was interning at a magazine during the day, waiting tables at the now-defunct Bottom Line at night, then spending several hours and most of the tips I'd just earned at some of Greenwich Village's finest last-ditch saloons along with my Bottom Line co-workers, most of whom I haven't been able to recall by name for over a decade. My go-to drink during those lost mornings was scotch and soda -- a highball I settled on solely because it was the most grown-up-seeming thing I could think of to order. I was 22, recently graduated from a fancy-name college and hanging with middle-aged, stage-crew guys sporting frazzled, gray hair and incomplete sets of teeth.  I wanted to fit in.

I suppose that's all nothing to be too embarrassed about, but as far as the scotch-and-sodas were concerned, I was drinking them for all the wrong reasons. Chief among those wrong reasons: I hated the way they tasted, like dirt and unscrupulousness and sock sweat. (Mind you, these scotch-and-sodas were made with no-name, bottom-shelf scotch, natch.)

So when Sean put a Pan Am in my hand recently and told me to take a sip, you can imagine my surprise when the first thing I said was, "This actually tastes like scotch," and that I said so with a smile across my face. What it actually tastes like is a bright, unmuddied scotch full of pep and character; in the book from which this recipe is adapted, the author calls it "Mexican firewater meets Kentucky hooch." Either way, the Pan Am is a serviceable highball, uncomplicated but not simple, a great sipper that you can (and should! this is high-octane stuff!) take your time to enjoy.

The Pan Am

(Adapted from Mini Bar: Tequila: A Little Book of Big Drinks, by Mittie Hellmich)

1 ounce Sauza Tequila Anejo Conmemorativo

1 ounce Buffalo Trace bourbon

1/4 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients into an ice-filled highball glass, stir briskly for a few seconds and serve.

Tasting Notes:

The original recipe calls for mezcal instead of tequila; we don't have the former at home, so we subbed in the latter.


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