Cocktail & Other Recipes Flavor Profile Smoky

Whisky in Church

A rocks glass with a stirred brown cocktail on a large ice cube garnished with lemon zest
Image: / Tim Nusog

Sherry and scotch whisky make a great pair in cocktails, perhaps evidenced by the centuries-old practice of aging the latter in casks that once held the former. Whisky in Church, a take of sorts on a Rob Roy, comes from Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud and Todd Smith of Dalva in San Francisco and is a classic example of the magic that can be created when sherry, wood, and whisky collide.

In this riff, the usual sweet vermouth is replaced with rich oloroso sherry and a bit of dark, intense Grade B maple syrup—two intense flavors that work in tandem to balance the intensely peaty flavors of the Islay scotch that forms the drink’s base. A hit of smoked cherry bitters takes the place of the ordinary (and more modest quantity of) Angostura bitters for a finishing touch of fruit-forward baking spice to round it all out.

Much like its fellow classics, the Rob Roy template is one that’s stood the test of time for a reason. Believed to have been created circa 1894 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, the simple combination of whisky, fortified wine and bitters—when well-executed—is all about letting each ingredient shine with little distraction, all the while offering a drinking experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

The Rob Roy has inspired countless riffs like the Whisky in Church, and when mixing one of these up at home, don't be afraid to put your own spin on things in the spirit of the many great bartenders before you. For example, if two ounces of Islay scotch is too much peat for your palate, consider splitting your base with a blended or single malt scotch whisky that’s lower in peat content so as to dial down the smoke without taking a completely different direction than what Smith and Reichborn-Kjennerud intended.

For those who do enjoy the intensity of Islay scotch, however, there’s much more exploring to be done while in this territory—for example, the Prophet in Plain Clothes calls for Laphroaig, Fernet Branca, sweet vermouth and Amaro Cinpatrazzo, yielding a bitter, smoky drink that shows a wildly different side of the Rob Roy spectrum. Or, if you’re looking to punch up the fruit and body, try the Islay and port-based 25th Hour. There’s a Rob Roy riff for everyone, and finding yours is half the fun.


  • 2 ounces Islay scotch
  • 3/4 ounce oloroso sherry
  • 1 barspoon grade B maple syrup
  • 6 dashes smoked cherry bitters
  • Garnish: lemon twist


  1. Add the whisky, sherry, maple syrup and bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.

  2. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube.

  3. Garnish with a lemon twist.