Scotch whisky is more often thought of as being enjoyed straight— maybe with a drop or two of water to open it up—than as the basis of a cocktail. Because of the almost overwhelming variety of flavor profiles available, from peat to sweet, scotch is definitely one of the more challenging spirits to work with as a mixologist. But, before you consider your glass half empty, try these classic concoctions that take delicious advantage of the smoky complexity of the classic whisky style. Here are three of the most popular scotch recipes that have stood the test of time to get you started.
Blood & Sand
3⁄4 oz. Scotch Whisky
3⁄4 oz. Cherry Heering
3⁄4 oz. Sweet Vermouth
3⁄4 oz. Orange Juice
This classic named for a Rudolph Valentino movie is one of those drinks that looks fairly unappealing on paper, but the end result really transcends the individual ingredients. It’s sweet, but saved from being cloying by the flavorful depth of the scotch. Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
2 oz. Scotch Whisky
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2-3 Dashes Angostura Bitters
An homage to the famous Scottish hero, this drink is basically a scotch version of the venerable Manhattan. Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
1.5 oz. Scotch Whisky
1.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
3 Dashes Benedictine
Named after the famed Scottish poet, this libation is a bit spicy and herbal, thanks to the Benedictine. There are many versions; this recipe is from the timeless mixologist’s tome, “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Try making these drinks at first with a quality blended scotch, such as Chivas Regal 12, Dewar’s White Label or Johnnie Walker Red Label. These spirits are a bit more accessible flavor-wise, and they’re also easier on the wallet than most single malts. If you feel like springing for a single malt, avoid the heavily peated varieties and opt for something a bit milder. Glenfiddich 12, one of the most popular single malts on the market, makes for a fine foundation. Springbank 15 provides a subtly sweet base for a fabulous cocktail, as does the completely unpeated Bruichladdich Rocks.
All of these scotch cocktails are traditionally served up, but there’s nothing wrong with adding an ice cube or two if you prefer. The recipes are also great springboards for experimentation. Not only can different whiskies be substituted to produce widely varying flavors, but all of these creations rely heavily on sweet vermouth to bring a variety of notes, from herbal to vegetal, to the final product.
Photo credit: Matthew Strom