Scotch cocktails may be incomprehensible to many Scotch connoisseurs, but it shouldn’t be. The whisky has many variations within the country, making it an exciting cocktail ingredient to experiment with. From the peaty flavors of an Islay single malt to the floral notes of a Lowland, we’re here to tell you that there are more ways to drink and appreciate your Scotch other than neat.
A Brief History of Scotch
Whisky made its way to Scotland by the 1300s. The first written record of Scotch is from 1494 tax records. This water of life, as they called it in Gaelic, was used originally as an anesthetic and antibiotic, presumably evolving from barley beer that was widely available at the time. Over time, the whisky-making process was refined, and different variations popped up throughout Scotland. Scottish immigrants brought their know-how to the US, and now we see many whisky variations worldwide.
Blended and Single Malt Whiskies
What is the superior whisky? Blended or single malt? The biggest debate in the Scotch world comes down to personal taste. Single malt means the whisky is produced by one Scottish distillery using exclusively malted barley. Blended scotch can be made with barley and other grain whiskies from different distilleries. Many cocktail recipes call for blended, but experimenting with a favorite single malt can add depth of flavor.
In Scotland, Scotch is simply called whisky (without the “e”) and is from 5 main regions in the country.
The Highlands – The largest Scotch region has a wide range of flavors. For example, the Glenmorangie is rich and sweet, Oban is peaty, and Alberfeldy is drier and fruitier, but all hail from The Highlands.
Lowlands – Known for lighter and more gentle flavor, Lowland whiskies are more likely to be sweet and floral. They’re often the base of blended whiskies.
Speyside – Speyside is technically a subregion of The Highlands but is often considered a Scotch destination of its own. Whiskies from this area are often known for their honeyed notes, imparted by the aging process.
Campbeltown – Influenced by the sea, Campbeltown whiskies can taste like the ocean: briny and salty. You’ll also find fruit and vanilla notes in some of them.
Islay – The small island of Islay is best known for making boldly peated whiskies like Laphroaig and Ardbeg. You can find non-peated Islays, though, like Bunnahabhain.
What cocktails to make with Scotch
Start with these Scotch cocktail recipes to venture into the world of Scotch mixed drinks.
1. Rob Roy
The Rob Roy was created in 1884 and is essentially a Scotch Manhattan. Named for the Scottish folk hero, it’s made with blended Scotch, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters. The Rob Roy has a lot of easy variations: you can make it with dry vermouth or perfect with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth.
Herbaceous gin and smoky Scotch might not be the most common flavor combination, but the result is captivating. The Smoky Martini swaps the vermouth for blended Scotch for a sophisticated Martini variation.
Somewhere between the Rusty Nail and a Scotch sour, the Bee Sting cocktail blends sweet, smoky, citrus, and botanical flavors. The ingredient list of Laphroaig, Bärenjäger (honey liqueur), Fernet-Branca, tangerine juice, egg white, and Peychaud’s is complex but easy-to-drink thanks to the silky egg white.
An unapologetic riff on the Rob Roy, the Prophet in Plain Clothes uses single malt Scotch, Fernet Branca, sweet vermouth, and Amaro Cinpatrazzo for a complex single malt Scotch cocktail you’ll keep coming back to.
Likely a predecessor to the Moscow Mule, the Mamie Taylor is a balanced three-ingredient cocktail. The vanilla notes of the blended Scotch pair with the ginger beer, and the added lime juice make this one of the most refreshing Scotch cocktails.
This pre-Prohibition drink is a Manhattan-esque Scotch cocktail. Named after the Scottish poet Robert Burns, it combines blended Scotch, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine. Bobby Burns is a balanced, boozy cocktail that’s easy to make at home.
From the mixologist Sam Ross, comes the Penicillin cocktail. The spicy-smoky concoction is made with two types of Scotch, lemon juice, and honey-ginger syrup. While traditionally served on the rocks, it is reminiscent of a Hot Toddy, it purportedly has the same healing properties.
Named after the 1922 bullfighter film, Blood and Sand mixes blended Scotch, Cherry Heering, sweet vermouth, and orange juice for colors reminiscent of its name. It’s one of the few Prohibition recipes that use Scotch as a base.