Le Père Bis
“There are two things a Highlander likes naked, and one of them is malt whisky.”
– Scottish proverb
Yes, I would tend to agree with the Scots in this regard, but sometimes it’s cold and wet outside. Sometimes your nose is running and your bones are aching, and the urge to whine rears its ugly head. Being naked under these bleak circumstances is disagreeable at best. I haven’t even mentioned the shrinkage issue. But we won’t whine, will we? We won’t be calling Whine-One-One for a waaaambulance, will we? No, we won’t. Instead we’ll suck it up and put on a goddamn sweater. And we’ll put a sweater on our whisky too – a nice hot sweater of tea and honey and lemon. Spring is on its merciful way, but for now, a hot toddy is just the ticket.
Now, traditionally hot water was what you added to your whisk(e)y or brandy, but a nice herbal tea is infinitely more flavourful. And while we’re at it, we might as well give it some extra boost with a healthy dash of liqueur.
This is precisely what Jim Meehan did when he created Le Père Bis back in the never-ending Winter of 2008. A couple of years prior, Robert Cooper, founder of Cooper Spirits International, asked Meehan to create a winter warmer with what was then his new spirit, St-Germain Elderflower liqueur. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Meehan went to work and paired it with one of Islay’s legendary peat monsters, Ardbeg 10, and discovered ‘that the “elderflower balanced the Scotch gracefully.” That sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
If you’ve read the marketing materials on this liqueur, you’ll be led to believe that moustachioed men handpick the elderflowers – gingerly placing them into sacks with care – then trundle down the hillside on rickety bicycles. I assume yodelling or merry whistling is vital to the process. Once the precious petals have been scrupulously transported from the high Alps they undergo a top secret maceration process. If this sounds preposterous to you, you’re not alone. Jason Wilson, author of Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, describes the absurdity of this advertorial tall tale with witticism that I won’t attempt to repeat here. Let’s just say that if you’re ever in the Haute-Savoie region in early May and are hoping to come across some silly beret-clad Frenchmen ferrying bags of little white flowers on vintage Peugeots, ne te fais pas d’illusions.
As for the name of the cocktail, I can’t say for sure. Père, of course, means “father”. Now, Bis is a little bit trickier – it’s my understanding that it can mean “encore” or “again” or “repeat” (kinda like redux?) It can also translate to “a dark grayish brown”. So I’m not sure what Meehan had intended with the name; he’s not responding to my tweets! Ah, well, regardless of the enigmatic name, this cocktail is a goodie.
- 1½ oz. Ardbeg 10 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- ½ oz. St-Germain Elderflower liqueur
- ½ oz. honey syrup
- 2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters
- 4 oz. freshly brewed chamomile tea
Fill a mug or Irish coffee glass with boiling filtered water. While the glass is warming, cut a lemon wedge and stud with a few cloves. Once your mug/glass has been preheated to your liking, discard the water and add the bitters, along with a chamomile tea bag. Top with 4 oz. (½ cup) of fresh boiling water and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. If you don’t feel like using a timer, simply recite the words to “Where is Thumbkin?” thricely. Discard the tea bag and add the remaining ingredients. Give the drink a quick stir and garnish with the clove-studded lemon wedge. Take two in succession every 4 hours until symptoms of SAD alleviate.
The floral notes of the chamomile, in cahoots with the elderflower, defuse the massive peat smoke bomb and slight saltiness of the Ardbeg. I reckon the zippy acidity of the St-Germain and lemon also help to balance things out. Further complexity is added via the cloves and bitters. This drink is the basically the embodiment of harmony. I can’t think of a better drink for when you come in from shoveling 2 feet of snow off your driveway.