Yes, the Rob Roy is just a Manhattan with Scotch whisky. But, wow, it’s a different beast. The drink is a 19th-century classic that deserves a lot more love than it gets. These days, most people order these as “Scotch Manhattans” or (even worse) a “Manhattan but with Scotch.” As a former high-end bartender, I can assure you that we know what a Rob Roy is without the explanation. Yes, this is literally a Manhattan variation with Scotch whisky, but that different base makes all the difference in the world.
So please…. just order it as a Rob Roy, okay? That name sounds cooler. (Rant over).
What we’re looking at here is a very classic cocktail that was devised at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan in 1894 to celebrate and operetta called, you guessed it, Rob Roy. The drink and the operetta are all about Scottish folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor. You can read up on the exploits of MacGregor and his Highland posse on your own time. For now, let’s focus on the Scotch cocktail at hand.
Manhattans and their variations tend to be late-fall and winter cocktails thanks to the mix of woody botanicals, sweetness, spicy bourbon or rye whiskey, and orange that basically screams “the holidays!” The Rob Roy is much lighter than those full-bodied and often spicy old-school Manhattans made with American whiskey. The reason is that you need to use sweet or unpeated blended Scotch whisky. Those tend to be more orchard fruit-forward — apple and pear especially — with a nice honeyed base. Apples, pears, and honey are much more fall-adjacent. That’s just a fact, folks.
With all of that in mind, let’s jump into this recipe and stir up the perfect fall cocktail!
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- 2 oz. blended Scotch whisky
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
- Orange peel
- Luxardo Cherry
I’m using an unpeated blended Scotch whisky, and you should too! You can absolutely make this with a peated blended malt, Johnnie Walker Green is a great choice for that. But this isn’t about peat, it’s about Highland whisky. For that vibe, I’m using Dewar’s 19, which has a wonderful base of honey, heather, and orchard fruits that really make this cocktail shine. It’s only $80 and makes a mean cocktail (yes, that’s cheap for a nearly 20-year-old scotch).
Remember, folks, the better the base spirit you use in your cocktail, the better that cocktail will taste.
What You’ll Need:
- Whisky glass (lowball), Nick and Nora, or cocktail glass
- Mixing jar
- Cocktail strainer
- Fruit peeler
- Prechill the glass in the freezer.
- Add the whisky, vermouth, and bitters to the mixing jar. Give it a stir. Then add a handful of ice. Stir until the mixing jar is ice cold to touch (about 30 to 40 seconds).
- Strain the cocktail into the prechilled glass.
- Peel a thin orange rind (about the size of your thumb), express the oils over the cocktail (gently squeeze the orange side of the rind toward the drink while rolling/folding between your thumbs and index fingers), and then rub the peel all around the outside of the glass to coat it in more orange oils then toss. Spear a cherry. Serve.
This is — shockingly — lighter than a Manhattan. The orchard fruits and honey come through the barky botanical vermouth and bitters and create a nice balance. The sweetness of both whisky and vermouth blend nicely but don’t make the drink too sweet. It’s more like a hint of rock candy with some floral honey.
Overall, this is a warming-yet-light cocktail that makes you feel like leaves should be falling around you as your pick apples and start bonfires. The whisky is there but not overpowering. There’s balance, depth, and fall vibes through and through. Slàinte Mhath!