Somewhere between the two most prevalent schools of scotch thought—scotch, neat, with not a drop of a damn thing else, versus scotch and soda and whatever goes—there may be a happy medium, where well-made cocktails are constructed with scotch as the base. And the best way to investigate this was to get boots on the ground in Scotland and see what was being mixed up across the country, from Edinburgh to Glasgow and assorted stops in between.
“The hardest challenge you face is making it accessible,” says Stuart Smith, the Glenmorangie brand home manager, of scotch. While many of the guests at Scotland’s Glenmorangie House are passing through to visit the nearby Glenmorangie distillery, of which they’re associated, many others actually aren’t and are simply staying at the lovely 17th-century farmhouse hotel.
This is all fine and good, but what about scotch cocktails for people who actually love the stuff and don’t need to be delicately introduced to it? Enter Edinburgh’s Bramble Bar, a bustling basement bar where you can be sure it serves a more true-to-tradition Bramble while also showcasing a diverse and enticing cocktail lineup.
Sure, scotch can be the star of the show, but it can can also eased into the equation for those who aren’t on the bandwagon yet via riffs of classic cocktails featuring other spirits. In other words, there’s no excuse for drinking a bad scotch cocktail any longer. Check out the five foolproof scotch drinks directly from the bonnie auld land below.
If you’re looking for a scotch cocktail that doesn’t pull any punches, look no further than the Campbeltown, served up at Bramble Bar, which routinely shows up in lists of the world’s best cocktail bars. The cocktail interweaves the fruity sweetness and tart of Cherry Heering, with the strong herbal notes of Chartreuse, with a backbone of Springbank 10-year-old scotch, a well-balanced whisky with enough depth and richness to stand up to both and one of the few remaining brands calling the Campbeltown scotch region home. “This has been one of our classics on the menu,” says bar manager Sam Baxendale.
It may come as a surprise to a visitor, but Glasgow is much more of a Gin & Tonic kind of town. “There aren’t many scotch bars here in Glasgow,” says Kevin Hunt, the bartender at The Finnieston and manager at the forthcoming Drugstore Social, both in Glasgow. Indeed, you’re equally as likely to walk into a bar showcasing a dozen Scottish gins as a lengthy single-malt list.
So while crew at The Finnieston deploys scotch as a stand-in spirit in familiar staple cocktails, it also uses the spirit with some of the fruitier and more herbal flavors that appeal to gin drinkers. Take the Hebridean Shores, with Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie unpeated Islay single-malt scotch, fino sherry, grapefruit juice, peach schnapps and a citrusy IPA topper. “The hops bring out grapefruit and effervescence,” says Hunt.
“It’s a twist on a classic Champagne cocktail,” says Anderson. “The Angostura balances with both the richness of the Aberfeldy and the dry prosecco. … I’m a classic cocktail girl, but everything is a twist on a classic. It’s all just what you use and balancing out what you get with the whisky itself.”
Is it heretical to take London’s iconic Bramble and use whisky rather than gin? Well, perhaps it’s the perfect Scottish reaction to an English drink, something that even the late Dick Bradsell would have had to have smiled at. Anderson has morphed the modern classic into the Dramble with Dewar’s 12-year-old blended scotch. The honeyed fruits and floral notes of Dewar’s play well with the Briottet crème de mûre liqueur while taking the drink in an entirely different direction. “The Dewar’s gives huge depth to it,” she says. “I genuinely think it’s better than the original, and it’s the easiest, simplest to make.”
The house cocktail at Glenmorangie House, the Long Zest, is meant to serve as an introduction to whisky. It’s an Old Fashioned–style formula of whisky, bitters and a flamed orange peel turned into a sipping-friendly long drink with the addition of Fever-Tree ginger ale. “The great thing about the Long Zest is you can give it to someone who doesn’t like whisky, and they love it,” says Smith.