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9 Scotch Cocktails Everyone Should Know

When cocktails were new, scotch was a dinosaur. That venerable brown whisky was a product of alchemy, of monastic secret knowledge and of the Old World. In contrast, the American mixologists of the nineteenth century who created the manhattan and perfected the old-fashioned were creatures of the Industrial Age. They received spirits via railroad and ship, bottled their own bitters, and took a scholarly curiosity to the fine art of mixing. While Scotch whisky was renowned as a quality spirit and a pricey import, that wouldn’t stop this new breed called bartenders from splashing it together with other yummy, boozy things.

And splash they did. The most famous scotch mixed drink is among the oldest. Today the Rob Roy remains a recognizable (if rarely ordered) 19th-century classic. It plays the game bartenders love best—substitution—providing an early and iconic manhattan twist where scotch stands in for the traditional American rye whiskey. While the manhattan shimmies, the Rob Roy saunters, giving up the prickly verve of rye whiskey for the more languid, nut and forest floor flavors of scotch.

It’s not a substitution for everyone, but that’s part of the charm. Scotch cocktails have always been a niche affair—notable but few in numbers, comparatively speaking. Even during those early days of cocktails, when so many drinks centered on whiskey, scotch cocktails were a notable minority. The cocktail was an American innovation, and in the States, rye and bourbon were cheap and abundant. To add scotch to a drink wasn’t just to add a unique, malty character but an investment, as the European import would always be more expensive. The flavor of scotch became associated with mahogany sitting rooms and smoking jackets. And while some of us may prefer our scotches strictly single malts and served with an itsy bitsy pipette of water, others might find joy where our own culinary forebears did, in mixology.

Today, scotch drinks remain a minority in the cocktail pantheon, but an important one. They’ve always had a certain amount of cocktail nerd cred. The Bobby Burns is an iconic classic of technical precision, and the Penicillin is arguably the 21st century cocktail revival’s most important contemporary standard. Between those two drinks lies a lot of breadth, with a lot of room to experiment.

Which scotch should you mix with? Blends like Famous Grouse or Sheep Dip are the bread and butter of classic scotch cocktails, but some of the ritzier mixers prefer the boldness of a single malt like Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, and some drinks want something smoky like an Islay from Laphroaig or Ardberg.

From demure to biting, both saline and nutty, caramel and savory, scotch works its best when it’s allowed to lead, and scotch cocktails work best when the spirit is doing something that a cousin from across the sea couldn’t. Here are a few Epicurious favorites to try.

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