Champagne has been synonymous with Western celebrations for centuries. Weddings, graduations, birthdays and New Year’s Eves are an excuse to drink something long considered premium. But with such easy access to a wide range of exceptional wines, spirits and other ingredients, why shouldn’t the most celebratory drinks be more inspired than a bottle of bubbles?

“Cocktails have always been an homage to a great night out,” says Sean Baxter, ex-MasterChef contestant (2014) and Johnnie Walker Whisky Ambassador. “Whether it’s the crisp white foam of a whisky sour, or the beautiful ruby sheen of a Rob Roy, the theatre of the cocktail befits any special occasion.”

Baxter says the most important part of creating any celebratory event is a sense of theatre. “I think champagne has hogged the limelight for too long due to its accessibility and its theatrical nuances,” he says, referring to the cork pop and plume of fizz. “I feel there can be some equally wonderful moments created with the clinking of bespoke ice, the flame of an orange zest and the rattle of the cocktail tin.”

Baxter says a cocktail can become an occasion in itself when you use premium ingredients and thoughtful preparation. “I find inspiration in simplicity, because it’s often the simplest drinks that highlight the most flavours in the base spirit,” he says. Simplicity isn’t about being conservative, though. Baxter says a traditional cocktail, such as an Old Fashioned, allows a lot of room for creativity.

It’s the versatility of the cocktail, in its flavour, texture, colour and serve, that means it can be shaped to suit a huge variety of occasions and menus. Baxter enjoys his favourite Old Fashioned with 60% dark orange-flavoured chocolate, or a cheese board with a particularly creamy blue cheese (like Saint Agur).

Sean Baxter’s Golden Old Fashioned
Makes one. Approximately 1.5 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
45ml Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Scotch Whisky
1 tsp dark agave (honey or maple syrup is a good alternative)
2 dashes of Regans' orange bitters
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Pinch of salt
Ice

Method:
Add the agave, bitters, salt and 30ml of whisky to a mixing glass and stir until combined. Add ice and stir until frost develops on the outside of the glass. Add the remaining whisky and stir. Strain the mixture into a heavy rocks glass and add a large chunk of ice. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel or a twist of orange peel.