Robb Report Vices

A Scottish Holiday

Ahh, beach season, the perfect time of year for a festive tiki glass filled with crushed ice, fruit juices, and scotch. Wait, what? We know what you’re thinking: The Robb Vices team has finally done it; they’ve gone ahead and overindulged, mixing up their spirits and touting the virtues of scotch instead of rum. We won’t deny an occasional overindulgence, but in this instance, what you read is a stone-sober decree. Sure, you can’t go wrong with the Caribbean’s native spirit during the summer months; but we’re confident that once you’ve finished reading, you’ll want to fill your summer with Speyside, Lowland, Highland, and Islay bliss.  

We’d like to take credit for such a nonconformist approach, but the credit must go to Curtis McMillan, general manager of Wink and Nod, a speakeasy-styled establishment in Boston’s South End neighborhood that opened in March. McMillan began his career as a brand ambassador for Glenfiddich, and soon grew frustrated that very few, if any, bartenders were open to the idea that scotch could thrive in any circumstances other than served neat or on the rocks. “I got really angry that bartenders looked at scotch as a premium product to never be used in cocktails,” he says. “Liquor is liquor, and scotch is just another spice that you should have at your disposal instead of being afraid of it.”

McMillan began by researching all pre-Prohibition scotch cocktails and then took it a step further, reimagining classic tiki recipes with single malts instead of rums. The 32-year-old had suspicions that scotch-based tiki drinks would be well received by those who previously disliked tiki drinks, as well as by those who typically disliked scotch; and it wasn’t long before he was proven right. “A menu isn’t about the presentation of doing the same things over and over again,” he says. “It’s about building a hypothesis and proving the consumer wrong. It forces the consumer to come back and to learn more and more.”

Wink and Nod’s menu changes seasonally, but McMillan assures us that some scotch-based tiki drinks will always be available, even if they’re not listed on the menu. The Milli (his take on the classic Zombie), for example, is a carefully blended mixture of Springbank 18-year single malt, Brugal 1888 rum, cinnamon simple syrup, Aperol, Pimm’s No. 1, lemon juice, and ginger beer; while the Vanilli (his take on the mai tai), showcases Glenkinchie 12-year, house-made orgeat syrup, pineapple juice, and lemon juice. As is customary, each is served in a tiki glass filled with crushed ice. And in the tradition of Curtis McMillian, both cheekily reference the 1980s.

If your travels don’t take you to Boston this summer, don’t despair; McMillian proclaims scotch-based tiki drinks are easy to recreate at home. Most dark-rum recipes can be rearranged to accommodate scotch, he says, and single malts inherently pair well with honey, ginger, and citrus and pear juices. From there, it’s just a matter of finding a pleasing balance of juices and sweeteners and knowing that once you add the liquor, you must do so with a heavy hand. Crushed ice delivers a faster rate of dilution, McMillan explains, so a well-made tiki drink must be very strong before it mingles with the ice.

Those are the only rules. “Tiki is very subjective,” McMillan says. “If, at the end of the day, the drink makes you feel like you’re on vacation somewhere . . . that would be a tiki drink.”