It’s Time to Embrace the Scotch Whisky Cocktail

Jan. 22, 2020


Scotch whisky is finally making its way onto cocktail menus. For too long, Scotch had a reputation for being too peaty and smoky to play nice in cocktails. Today’s bartenders, however, have risen to the challenge and found creative new ways to bring out Scotch whisky’s bold character in beautifully balanced cocktails.

“When building a Scotch-based cocktail, you’re looking for complementary, not contrasting, flavor profiles,” said Adam Halyckyj, Beverage Development Specialist for Breakthru Beverage Illinois. “For example, I wouldn’t put something super smoky with passion fruit because the two would clash. Instead, I would pair that smokiness with something equally strong, like spicy ginger.”

It is important to remember that not all Scotch whiskies are peat monsters. In fact, the most popular brands are actually fruity, and dare we say, sweet.

“Scotch whiskies from the Highlands and Campbeltown regions are going to be bright and sweet, with custard and caramel notes. Whiskies from Islay will have those big smoky and meaty notes that are so often attributed to Scotch,” Halyckyj said.

There’s also terroir to consider as well.

“Distilleries that are closer to the sea could have some salinity, so that too needs to be considered when building a drink,” Halyckyj said.

In the end however, it doesn’t matter where the whisky is from, or even if it is a blend or single malt.

“All that really matters are how the flavor profiles complement each other to make a drink that is strikingly balanced and beautiful,” Halyckyj said.

Ready to shake and stir a few Scotch whisky cocktails of your own? Here are five Scotch cocktails Halyckyj recommends mixing up.



The Proven Classic: Rob Roy

2 oz. Scotch whisky

1 oz. sweet vermouth

2 Dashes aromatic bitters

Glass: Rocks

Garnish: Black cherry


Combine Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled rocks glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with skewered black cherry.

Halyckyj: The Rob Roy is really just a Scotch Manhattan. It provides a great entry point for consumers looking to move over from rye or bourbon and into Scotch.



The Modern Classic: Penicillin

2 oz. Blended Scotch whisky

.25 oz. Heavily peated Scotch whisky (float)

.75 oz. Honey ginger syrup*

.75 oz Fresh lemon juice

Glass: Rocks

Garnish: Lemon wheel and candied ginger


Combine blended Scotch whisky, honey ginger syrup and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Using the back of a bar spoon, slowly pour the heavily peated Scotch on top, floating it above the rest of the cocktail. 

*Honey ginger syrup

1 cup honey

1 (6-inch) piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

Combine honey, ginger, and one cup water in a 2-qt. saucepan over high and boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer five minutes. Chill overnight, then strain, discarding solids.

Halyckyj: If there were ever to be an essential Scotch whisky cocktail, this would be it. The Penicillin uses two different Scotch whiskies — a fruity blended Highland and a peaty, savory Islay — and yet neither one overpowers the other. This is a drink that can and should be enjoyed year-round.



The Tiki Riff: Is There a Bird in Here?

1.75 oz. Blended Scotch whisky

.75 oz. New Orleans-style bitters

.5 oz. Demerara syrup (1:1 ratio demerara sugar to water)

1.5 oz. Fresh pineapple juice

.75 oz. Fresh lime juice

Glass: Coupe


Combine all ingredients into a shaker filled with fresh ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled. Double strain into a coupe glass.

Halyckyj: This is a riff on the classic Jungle Bird, which is traditionally made with rum. I wanted to create a tiki drink that would have consumers second guessing that, yes, there really is Scotch in there. 



The Seasonal Sour: Yuzu Whisky Sour

2 oz. Blended Scotch whisky

.75 oz. Yuzu-lemon juice (1:1 ratio yuzu juice to lemon juice)

.75 oz. Simple syrup

3 Dashes aromatic bitters

Egg white

Glass: Collins

Garnish: Tropical flower and bitters design


Combine whisky, yuzu-lemon juice and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until chilled. Slowly strain into a Collins glass allowing the drink to form a tall, foamy head. Drop three dashes of bitters onto the foam and swirl into a design using a toothpick. Garnish with flower.

Halyckyj: I originally developed this recipe with the intention of using Japanese whisky as the main base spirit. I found that it actually works better using a light and soft blended Scotch whisky.



An Original Creation: B-A-NA-NA-S

1.5 oz. Blended Scotch whisky

.75 oz. Italian amaro (Preferably from Bologna, Italy)

.75 oz. Crème de Banane

4 Dashes aromatic bitters

Glass: Coupe

Garnish: Dried banana chip


Combine all the ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until will combined and chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a single dried banana chip.

HalyckyjThis is my attempt to make something stirred and on the lighter side. Use a Scotch whisky here that isn’t super aggressive so that the softer flavors like the banana can shine through.  
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