Scotch has a reputation as a serious drinker’s drink. But it’s also versatile and can be—dare we say it?—playful. Bartenders nationwide are making the case for scotch cocktail possibilities, whether going classic and spirituous or highlighting it with strawberry, tea and even yogurt. From Kansas City, Mo., to Charleston, S.C., we visited top bars and restaurants to share the 11 scotch whisky cocktails worth drinking now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great scotch drinks? Try making the From Jura to Java from this list at home.
Sporting custom-carved tiles, velvet couches and massive windows overlooking the Transamerica Pyramid and Chinatown’s bustling Broadway Street, Cold Drinks, which is hidden upstairs from modern Chinese restaurant China Live, soft-opened in August, feeling like an escape to Shanghai or Hong Kong. The menu is a whisky journey through the range of scotch’s possibilities in cocktails. The Sinister Occasion woos the non-scotch drinker and aficionado alike with Speyburn 10-year-old single-malt scotch, creamy-cool with yogurt, Giffard Banane du Brésil liqueur, Rinomato aperitivo, honey and a kick of earthy spice from chocolate and habanero bitters.
The retro-cool hotel The Dewberry is not only special for Charleston, S.C., but a destination hotel for midcentury-modern lovers everywhere. It’s fitting that the hotel bars are not only vintage-chic but also serve expertly crafted cocktails. Ryan Casey ensures refined but drinkable cocktails, with the Ichor & Glass reading somewhat straightforward, a mix of Compass Box whisky and Orangerie liqueur, sweet vermouth, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao and Cherry Heering liqueur. It takes skill to bring these spirits together seamlessly, without one ingredient overpowering another. Casey pulls it off and makes it visually arresting, too, as the rosy hue of the drink unfolds over an ice sphere.
On the ground floor of NYC’s Lipstick Building, Charlie Palmer’s Crimson & Rye is a whiskey-centric lounge helmed by lead bartender Max Malouf, a Charlie Palmer Group vet. The Lowland Plum Swizzle shows off Bank Note blended scotch with the tart herbaceousness of Averell Damson gin liqueur and the nutty umami notes of Lustau amontillado sherry, smoothed out with a blend of white and red vermouth. More nuttiness comes from black walnut bitters and crumbled walnuts, while the drink refreshes on the rocks, evoking fall with its scotch-sherry-walnut layers.
Valkyrie has been a destination-worthy Tulsa cocktail bar for more than five years, recently expanding to more than 700 spirits. General manager Tyler Schilling and the bartending team collaborate on a range of drinks and offer craft beers, as well. They do right by scotch in the Miller's Crossing cocktail. The scotch gains lush depth with Lustau oloroso sherry and demerara sugar, a touch of orange spice from Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 and gently smoky aromas from a Laphroaig Islay scotch rinse. While it’s for the serious imbiber, it remains drinkable and smooth.
Since 2013, Multnomah Whiskey Library has drawn crowds for its seemingly endless whiskey selection. On the cocktail side, lead bartender Nic Smith’s The Devil You Know is a staff favorite you can request. Ardbeg 10-year-old scotch and Compass Box The Peat Monster scotch bring the peat/smoke, tempered by Rittenhouse rye whiskey and generous doses of Scrappy’s Firewater tincture bitters, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters. It plays like a classic whiskey cocktail and goes down bracing yet smooth.
Kevin Diedrich‘s P.C.H. offers multiple standout scotch cocktails, including the secret menu Rump Shaker (named after the hip-hop song), a peanut butter and apple juice riff with Glen Grant scotch. On menu, the Tuk Tuk Tea is a Thai iced tea lover’s dream. Dewar’s 12-year-old scotch—with a touch of H by Hine cognac—forms the base, smokily enhanced by a 1/4-ounce of Laphroaig scotch. A house blend of two black teas enhances the drink’s robust body, softened by honey and ribbons of cream streaming through the glass. It’s one creamy, boozy beauty.
In a town rife with stellar oyster bars, The Darling is, well, the most darling: a retro-chic charmer with big windows, teal banquettes and black-and-white-tiled flooring. Set to king crab parfait and rounds of oysters, The Darling is as ideal for a bite and drinks as it is for a full meal. On the cocktail side, the Shoulder Monkey is one of those whisky cocktails that would delight a non-scotch drinker. The savory fruit-forward notes of Monkey Shoulder scotch are enhanced by a grilled pineapple and sage syrup. The drink is sweet and nutty with orgeat, tart with lemon and topped with a frothy layer of egg white and a sage leaf.
Overlooking the Chicago cityscape from the 20th floor of the Conrad Chicago hotel, Baptiste & Bottle crafts high-quality spirituous drinks that arrive via cart and are stirred, shaken or presented with liquid nitrogen. They go luxurious (at $28 per cocktail, including tableside presentation) with Glenfiddich 14-year-old scotch in The Huntsman, tempered with Punt e Mes vermouth, bright with apricot, then unfolding and flowing with rooibos tea smoke as the drink steeps on the cart.
Upscale Indian restaurant Junoon transports diners with its white tablecloths and dishes like tandoori octopus and ghost chili murgh tikka. Hemant Pathak crafts a drink menu with Asian ingredients and inspiration. The Ceremonial Cha cocktail pairs matcha green tea with aquafaba (chickpea or other legume water), a popular cocktail ingredient in recent years that adds silky texture with a touch of saltiness and is a vegan alternative to egg whites, and gains sour, earthy, spiced, sweet layers from Dewar’s 12-year-old blended scotch, umeshu Japanese plum liqueur, star anise and lemon.
Bellota is a haven for paella, pintxos and Spanish sidra, vermut and sherry on draft. Unexpectedly, it’s also home to one of the great scotch cocktails on menus now, thanks to bar manager Collin Nicholas. The Vale, Guay (essentially “OK, cool” or “it’s cool” in Spanish) softly showcases the elegant peaty notes of Loch Lomond scotch with strawberry oolong syrup for more summery, smoky amplification, balanced by lemon, fino sherry and egg white and dusted with pulverized oolong powder.
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge feels plucked straight out of London—but with a Midwest welcome. Pull up to the white Italian marble bar for bar director Brock Schulte’s inspired cocktails, which include the From Jura to Java, a drink that showcases Jura Superstition scotch with Foursquare 2004 single-blended rum, Batavia-arrack, Lazzaroni amaro and The Bitter Truth chocolate bitters. The drink is rich and smoky yet delicate and sophisticated, with notes coffee, chocolate, wood and subtle funk, garnished with a black garlic financier.
Mixing your cocktail