The Rob Roy cocktail is similar to the beloved Manhattan, except the Rob Roy calls for scotch instead of American whiskey. The swap from bourbon (or rye) to scotch may not seem significant, but the difference is notable. And delicious.
While the Manhattan dates back to around 1880, it’s believed that the Rob Roy first appeared more than a decade later, likely around 1894 at the Waldorf Astoria’s original location on Fifth Avenue. According to Frank Caiafa, NYC bartender and author of “The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book,” the drink was inspired by an operetta named “Rob Roy,” which was performed at the nearby Herald Square Theatre. Created by the composer Reginald De Koven and lyricist Harry B. Smith, the operetta was loosely based on a Scottish folk hero who was a Robin Hood-like figure named Rob Roy MacGregor.
Like any good spirit-forward cocktail, the Rob Roy is an opportunity to highlight what’s in the glass, not hide it. Any number of scotches can yield a great drink, so choose your favorite. But note that you want a bottle that will pair with the herbal, bittersweet vermouth. Blended scotch is the usual choice. Single malts can certainly work, but anything too heavily peated may overpower the vermouth and lead to an unbalanced drink.
The ratio of components varies, with many older recipes calling for equal parts scotch and vermouth and many newer recipes opting for a two-to-one build. This recipe puts emphasis on the whisky, letting it rise to the front so none of its nuance is lost.
Mix a Rob Roy with different scotches and vermouths, and find the recipe you like best. If you want to keep experimenting, you can try a Perfect Rob Roy, which calls for equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. Or add a dash of Bénédictine liqueur to make it a Bobby Burns. No matter how often you stray, you’re likely to keep coming back to the original. Stirred with ice and served in a stemmed glass with a brandied cherry, the cocktail is flavorful, rich and warming. It’s a drink that demands contemplation, so find a comfortable perch and savor it slowly.
Click Play to See This Rob Roy Cocktail Recipe Come Together
2 ounces scotch
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: brandied cherries
Add the scotch, sweet vermouth and bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled Nick & Nora or cocktail glass.
Garnish with speared brandied cherries.