Though not as renowned as drinks like the Manhattan, Sidecar or Martini, the Bobby Burns is a classic cocktail dating back to the early part of the 20th century. Similar to the Rusty Nail or Blood & Sand, it has the rare quality of being made with blended Scotch whisky rather than bourbon, rye or another spirit all together.
Like many storied cocktails, the origins of the Bobby Burns are fuzzy. The first available source for it dates to 1902’s bar book “Bishop & Babcock Company’s Fancy Drinks,” though in the book the recipe is referred to as the Baby Burns, and calls for one teaspoon each of vermouth and Benedictine, as well as a pony (generally considered one ounce) of scotch. Later, in texts like “Recipes for Mixed Drinks” in 1917 and 1930’s seminal “Savoy Cocktail Book” from Harry Craddock, the name was changed to the Bobby Burns; while there is always going to be some debate as to the meaning of the name, it’s likely an homage to the famed Robert Burns, widely considered the national poet of Scotland.
The cocktail itself is similar to a Rob Roy (named for another famous Scot), the scotch-based Manhattan variation. However, this drink (usually) sees equal parts scotch and sweet vermouth, rather than two-to-one proportions, and substitutes the traditional dashes of bitters for a half ounce of Benedictine. This herbal liqueur, like Green Chartreuse, is made with a proprietary recipe known only by a handful of people. What is known is that there are 27 herbs and spices in its blend, and the Benedictine is an essential part of the Bobby Burns.
While single malt scotches tend to get the most attention, blended scotches are more commonly used in mixed drinks. And though earlier recipes didn’t specify, modern takes on the Bobby Burns tend to follow this style. There are plenty of quality blended Scotch whiskies on the market, from the more famous labels like Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal and Famous Grouse to lesser known and newer expressions. Whichever bottle you use, go with a 12-year-old, which lends more smoothness, richness and complexity.
Similarly, the choice of sweet vermouth is up to you, but it’s recommended to go with something on the dryer, more botanical side like Noilly Prat or Punt E Mes. A bit of lemon zest, its oils expressed over the surface of the drink, finishes the Bobby Burns, and the drink is best served with a few Scottish shortbread biscuits and a collection of the poet’s works.
- 1 ounce blended Scotch whisky (ideally a 12-year-old)
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (such as Noilly Prat rouge)
- 1/2 ounce Benedictine
- Garnish: lemon peel
Add the scotch, vermouth and Benedictine to a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a cocktail glass.
Twist a lemon peel over the glass to release its oils and then drop it into the drink.