Vat 69 Gold and the Perfect Scotch Sour

Photo Courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Every year on my birthday, my parents would try to find me a bottle of whiskey that I had never heard of before. Sometimes, it is random. Other times, there is significance. Last year, it was the Quiet Man Irish Whiskey, named after the classic film starring John Wayne. This year on a spring trip to Lititz, they found a pitcher for Vat 69 Gold Scotch and bought it for me, saving it as a birthday present. I have a small group of pitchers to go along with my bar sign collection. But they could not give me the pitcher without the drink to go with it. It was not to be found anywhere. After a special order, it arrived at a local liquor store for pick-up.

Sadly, the order was placed days before my father passed away, and arrived shortly after. I guess you could consider this bottle of Vat 69 Gold to be the last gift he ever got me. I did have a nice birthday in July—well as nice as the sentiment would allow. I poured some of this Scotch and drank it neat. I thought it was pretty good. Mild smokiness and kind of sweet. Not bad for a spirit on the cheaper side. Then I put the bottle away for a couple of months. “What are you saving it for?” an internal voice shouted. So the other day, having a good feeling this would work, I used it for a Scotch Sour.

This is a drink I never had before. It’s an old-fashioned cocktail if there ever was one. When I taught my “History of Liquor” course at Brookdale College last year, one of my students (a woman in her 70’s) noted this was her favorite drink of all-time. Vat 69 (established 1839) in particular has a little bit of history. One of the main characters in Band of Brothers loved the stuff. It was also taken by Ernest Shackleton on his voyage to Antarctica. Last but not least, it was the favorite spirit of a particular Jack Torrance in The Shining. I have connections to all three: I love World War II history, have read and studied Shackleton since childhood, and The Shining is a favorite horror movie of mine.

On to the Scotch Sour, I used two ounces of Vat 69 Gold, 3/4 of an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and three small spoonfuls of homemade simple syrup. Shaken vigorously. I was blown away. The Scotch was just strong enough that you knew what you were drinking, but did not dominate the drink (I think something like a Johnnie Walker Red would be too harsh). The lemon added some tang and freshness, while there was just enough syrup for a delicate sweetness. I ended up making a second. It was perfect. One of the best first-tries I’ve ever had.

Most recipes for this drink do not call for sugar or simple syrup, but I just could not see strictly Scotch and lemon juice tasting good. Yes, it’s called a “Sour”, but that would be too much pucker for me. I have always considered whiskey, Scotch specifically, to be a good winter drink. But using this recipe, you could transform it into a refreshing summer cocktail, or better still: when the crisp fall air starts to roll in.

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