When walking along the spirited cocktail path of life, there are many turns and some are somewhat surprising (that sounds a bit like it should be the fortune found inside of a tipsy fortune cookie, but stick with me). For example, while I’ve never disliked the Scotch side of the whisky/whiskey family – or any part of any spirit or liqueur family for that matter – I’ve usually shaded a bit more on the bourbon branch, both when sipping solo and when mixing up cocktails. However, recently one of those surprising turns mentioned above happened to me, and I found myself more and more reaching for the Scotch bottles on my liquor shelves.
While I’ve been enjoying a host of single malts and a few blends by themselves or with a drop of clear water or a single ice cube (and don’t judge me if you only have your Scotch completely unadulterated – the water brings out new flavors), and have been digging brands I didn’t know as much about like Springbank and Speyburn, I’ve also been mixing up Scotch cocktails. It’s my nature to have spirits neat, on the rocks, and mixed up, no matter what they are. The Scotch purists may be sitting in the corner, shaking their shaky fists at me and muttering while I write this sentence, but if an imbibible of any kind has lots of flavor, I don’t see the shame in playing around with it. I want it to take center stage, naturally, but am not shy about attempting cocktails with anything. Even single-malt Scotch.
However, since single-malts tend to have loads of character, I’ve been sticking mostly to more classically-minded cocktails, ones that don’t tend towards so many ingredients that the end result is a muddle. I’ve also picked my cocktailing Scotches carefully. One of my favorites to play around with lately has been Auchentoshan Classic. Clean, on the friendlier side, with vanilla, light spice and floralness, and hints of apple and citrus, it’s a smooth tipple that’s been triple distilled and aged in bourbon casks. Because of a younger nature, and because it’s not as peaty as most, this is an ideal single-malt if you’re introducing someone to Scotch for the first time. And the same flavors and demeanor that can help ease someone into Scotch make it swell for cocktails.
Auchentoshan Classic makes an especially nice Rob Roy. A classic drink that’s lost a little recognition over the years, the Rob Roy’s history traces back to 1894 when it was first crafted by a bartender at the legendary Waldorf Hotel in NYC. Made to celebrate an operetta based on the Scottish folk hero later played by Liam Neeson in the movie of the same name, the drink when made right is a mixture as strong as the highlander it’s based upon. A cousin to the Manhattan and the Bobby Burns, it really allows the Scotch to shine, adding only sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters. I’ve been going with Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, an Italian vermouth that brings just the right herbal notes, and using the below recipe, which is from Dark Spirits. Oh, one last note. For perhaps the finest Rob Roy experience outside of your home, you’ll need to visit Seattle, where you can have the drink in a bar that’s also called the Rob Roy. And which just happens to be one of the finest bars in any city.
2-1/2 ounces Auchentoshan Classic Scotch
1/2 ounce Cocchi di Torino vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add the Scotch, vermouth, and bitters. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.
A Variation: Wanna take a wee trek away from the Rob Roy? Switch Angostura for orange bitters, and you’ll be having a Highland Cocktail.
Photo from Dark Spirits, copyright 2009, Melissa Punch and Harvard Common Press. Recipe from Ginger Bliss and the Dark Spirits, copyright 2009, Harvard Common Press.