Even non-scotch drinkers will enjoy this Manhattan variant
A scotch-based cocktail? Aye!
The Rob Roy dates back to the 19th century. And it has aged well – much like its signature ingredient.
The drink probably was named after a popular operetta. Which is appropriate, because you’ll soon be singing its praises.
Recipe: The Rob Roy Cocktail
Scotch whiskey (usually spelled whisky) has a distinct flavor, one that’s often smoky and peaty. Because it tends to be sharper and more assertive than American bourbon or rye, scotch is an acquired taste for some.
With its distinct flavor profile, scotch is most often savored neat or over ice. But it does grace a few cocktails – including the one we discuss today.
As noted above, the Rob Roy is essentially a Manhattan Cocktail made with scotch. Preferably blended scotch, as we explain in the Notes.
Originally, this drink was made with equal parts of scotch and red (sweet) vermouth. Over the years, though, the drink became much drier. Today the standard formula is 2 parts scotch to 1 part red vermouth. If you want an even drier drink, try 2½ parts scotch to 1 part red vermouth.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.
- 2 ounces blended scotch whisky (see Notes)
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (Italian red vermouth)
- 1 to 2 dashes bitters (Angostura are traditional, but Peychaud’s work better – see Notes)
- maraschino cherry for garnish (optional; may substitute lemon twist)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir until well chilled (about 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Add garnish, if you wish, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces air bubbles, which can make a drink cloudy. (That doesn’t matter when some of the ingredients are opaque – think citrus juice.)
- But shake anyway if that’s your preference. We often do so ourselves.
- Although Angostura bitters are traditional in this drink, some people leave them out. And we can see why – their flavor clashes a bit with scotch.
- But David Embury (a renowned drinks expert from the 1940s and 50s) came up with an even better idea: Substitute Peychaud’s (a brand of bitters made in New Orleans) for Angostura. That’s how we make our Rob Roy, and we highly recommend it.
- A maraschino cherry is the traditional garnish for this drink, and it works well. A lemon twist is really good too, however.
- Scotch whisky starts out as either single malt (made at a single distillery from only water and malted barley) or single grain (made at a single distillery, but sometimes with other grains in addition to barley – paradoxical, we know).
- If you mix various batches of scotch together, you have blended scotch whisky. There are three kinds of blends: Blended malt (using 2 or more single malts from different distilleries), blended grain (using 2 or more single-grain whiskies from different distilleries), and blended scotch (using one or more single-malt scotches along with one or more single-grain scotches).
- Scotch aficionados quiver with pleasure at the thought of imbibing a good (and expensive!) single-malt scotch. But when it comes to cocktails, you really want to use a blended scotch.
- And most of the scotch you’ll find in liquor stores is blended scotch. Indeed, about 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland is blended scotch.
- Blended scotch works well in cocktails (the flavor is mellower). And it’s usually much cheaper than single malt.
- Many brands of blended scotch whisky are available, and any would work fine in a Rob Roy. We suggest Dewar’s simply because it’s a huge seller in the US (and it may be the scotch that was used in the original Rob Roy, as discussed below). But there are plenty of other good blends around, including Ballantine’s, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark, J&B, and Johnnie Walker.
- The Rob Roy Cocktail was created at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, probably during the 1890s. Popular legend says the drink was named to honor the then-popular operetta Rob Roy, by Reginald De Koven and Harry B. Smith.
- The operetta was based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel of the same name. A key figure in that novel is Rob Roy MacGregor, a Scottish folk hero who lived from 1671 until 1734.
- A cocktail bearing the name of a Scottish hero needs to use scotch whisky, of course. And around the time the cocktail was created, Dewar’s White Label Scotch arrived on the US market. (This is the full name of the blended scotch that most of us just call Dewar’s. But the Dewar’s brand also includes several other bottlings of blended scotch).
- Dewar’s scotch quickly became popular in the US. And although no one knows if it was the scotch first used in the Rob Roy Cocktail, that’s a reasonable assumption.
- Care to try a variation on the Rob Roy Cocktail? Substitute orange bitters for Peychaud’s or Angostura, and you have the Highland Cocktail (sometimes called the Highland Fling). Or add a dash of Drambuie, and you have the Bobbie Burns. Both are good drinks.
The Drink that Never Sleeps
“Who knew The Manhattan Cocktail was so prolific?” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Here we are, enjoying another of its progeny.”
“Well, New York City is notorious as a den of iniquity,” I said. “And Manhattan is its prime borough.”
“Yup, and we’ve been riffing on its cocktail namesake all year,” said Mrs K R. “In January we did The Fanciulli Cocktail, which is basically a Manhattan made with Fernet-Branca.”
“Then in February we did The Hanky Panky,” I said. “Also made with Fernet-Branca, but with gin instead of the bourbon or rye you usually find in a Manhattan. That one is essentially a sweet Martini, but its flavor is very similar to a Manhattan.”
“And of course last month we did the Blackthorn Cocktail,” said Mrs K R. “Which is basically a Manhattan made with Irish whiskey.”
“Hey, your glass looks empty,” I said. “Can I interest you in another Rob Roy?”
“In a New York minute,” said Mrs K R.
You may also enjoy reading about:
The Fanciulli Cocktai
The Hanky Panky Cocktail
Blackthorn Cocktail Martini Cocktail
Or check out the index for more