In the March issue of Esquire, drinks correspondent David Wondrich covers that standby cocktail you can order in most any bar: the Rob Roy.
Simply a Manhattan made with scotch whisky, the Rob Roy has been kicking around for more than a century, mixed in everything from artisan cocktail bars to the beer-and-a-shot place down the street, fitting in just as well at either kind of establishment.
While it's certainly possible to screw up this drink, it's such a simple formulation that with just a little attention to detail, even the most distracted bartender can come up with something approachable. Be sure to use a decent blended scotch—Famous Grouse is a good, affordable blend, or you can aim for one of the higher shelves (Johnny Walker Black, Chivas Regal, etc.) if your wallet is willing to accommodate you.
If you have any control over matters at all (like if you're mixing a round at home) try using fresh vermouth (keep it refrigerated to make it last longer), and don't forget the bitters.
Wondrich suggests ditching the typical cherry garnish and going with a lemon twist; this is a fine idea, though I think a thin swatch of orange zest is particularly scrumptious in a Rob Roy.
The use of a single-malt scotch may be something of a waste, as the vermouth and bitters will obscure some of the nuances you look (and pay) for in these whiskies. That said, if you want to go premium with your Rob Roy and break out the Highland Park or the Bruichladdich, it's your call—though if you take this path, maybe upgrade the vermouth as well, to something like Carpano Antica Formula or Vya, and feel free to swap out the Angostura for orange bitters or something else that sounds appealing. The Rob Roy is accommodating that way.
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.
- 2 ounces blended Scotch whisky
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: lemon or orange twist
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well for about 20 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon or orange peel over the drink and use as garnish.