For the second week in a row, I’m revisiting classic variations of classic cocktails that have been mentioned here before but not fully explored. Though supposedly created by an anonymous bartender at New York’s Waldorf Hotel and named for the legendary hero of Scottish folklore, the Rob Roy is a pretty clear case of cocktail plagiarism at its finest. All it really is the Manhattan but made with Scotch rather than with rye, bourbon, or Canadian whisky. Still, as I noted in the second edition of DOTW, a Manhattan is really just a martini made with whiskey and capitalizing on the natural sweetness of rye, bourbon and Canadian whiskey, as opposed to the dry tang of modern day gin.
I also said at the time that I hadn’t figured out yet how to make a Rob Roy taste any good. It did take some time to revisit some recipes and experiment a bit with the more smokey and biting flavor of the Scottish brew in comparison to the sweeter rye and the almost-candy-like-in-comparison bourbon. Here’s the trick as I see it right now: We still use bitters, but we use them more sparingly.
The Rob Roy
2 ounces Scotch whisky
1/2-1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash bitters (angostura or orange)
maraschino cherry or lemon peel (garnish)
Add Scotch, vermouth, and bitters — using a light hand on the bitters — in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake most vigorously and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail class and sip, preferably while pouring over a volume of Robert Burns’ poetry.
It’s true that the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, and the hole in my plans was that I ran out of my beloved dry Noilly Pratt and forgot to try the dry version of the Rob Roy, which appears to be more popular than the less frequently discussed dry Manhattan. Both drinks simply use dry vermouth in place of the sweet variety and, traditionally, change the garnish from the cherry to a lemon peel or, if you’re me, an olive. If so, I would be extra careful with using Angostura bitters especially as Scotch is already a relatively harsh brew compared to North American whiskeys.
In general, though, to reiterate, the major distinction I would make between the Rob Roy and the Manhattan is that I strongly counsel being stingy with bitters on a Rob Roy, while I counsel greater generosity with them on Manhattans. Scotch is a pretty tough form of booze all on its own.