Not that it requires one, but if the world’s most famous sipping whisky commissioned a 21st-century ad slogan, it might read: “Scotch! It’s good in cocktails, too!” As much as we love to enjoy a nice scotch unadorned, these days, bartenders are using its bold flavors to fuel a whole new kind of cocktail—one that’s complex, distinct and worth your drinking attention. These are the eight scotch cocktails to drink in bars now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great scotch drinks? Try making the Spanish Armada from this list at home.
Hidden on the second floor of Kimpton Gray hotel, Chicago’s sleek Vol. 39 is a spirit-forward bar where a menu of Old Fashioned variations and a six-Martini flight are de rigueur. The Spanish Armada by bartender Jessica Lambert is a layering of Lustau Brandy de Jerez, El Dorado 12-year-old rum, Lustau PX sherry and bitter Bigallet China-China amer. The drink’s peaty, nuanced secret? The Famous Grouse Smoky Black blended scotch. The savory spice layers unfold with Bittercube Jamaican No. 1, Angostura and The Bitter End curry bitters.
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Out in San Francisco’s sleepy Outer Richmond, favorite Fiorella opened a sister restaurant and bar last summer, Violet’s. The bustling neighborhood spot goes the elevated-yet-playful American food route, with killer house-made chips with roasted onion dip and duck liver mousse. Patrick Poelvoorde’s cocktails go down easy, including this riff on a classic Rob Roy, the Rob Royce. Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend blended scotch and George Dickel Tennessee whiskey gain herbal character from La Quintinye Vermouth Royal and Cappelletti amaro sfumato rabarbaro. It’s a perfect drink for when the fog rolls in.
Portland’s recent arrival of Palomar adds a welcome tropical island escape in PDX. Here, Cuban dishes flow and absinthe can be added to any cocktail for 25 cents (yes!). Bar vets Ricky Gomez and Brandon Josie get the welcoming vibe right as they also perfect rum-and-beyond cocktails, from classics and Havana heyday greats to easy-drinking house cocktails. The Scotch & Solo is as easy as it gets, without sacrificing flavor. Johnnie Walker Red Label blended scotch plays quite nicely with Coco Solo soda, a dry Cuban coconut soda, given an extra layer of spice from Scrappy’s cardamom bitters.
Los Poblanos Inn is a dreamy inn and organic farm on the northern side of Albuquerque. The restaurant captures that ideal balance of rustic and worldly, sourcing ingredients from its own farm. Its lofty wood-lined Campo restaurant gazes out at the mountains and surrounding farmland while the bar is a cocktail respite in a city where the cocktail renaissance has yet to really hit. Bracing and bold, the Ginger Tincture is straightforward—the typical, winning combo of ginger and scotch. The peat of Laphroaig 10-year-old sings with lively house-made ginger syrup and Crabbie’s ginger beer, while Cappelletti Elisir Novasalus amaro’s beautifully bitter, pine notes are the drink’s secret weapon.
One of Houston’s most exciting bar openings of 2018, The Cottonmouth Club has an upstairs bar that lets you choose your own glassware while you’re asked a series of quirky questions to customize your drink. Downstairs, you’ll find a menu of classics like the proper Old Pal tribute, the Long Lost Pal, combining Jack Daniel’s rye whiskey and Shackleton blended scotch. Both get a brightly crisp bitter boost from St. George Bruto Americano aperitivo, Dolin dry vermouth and a house-made Sprite syrup.
D.C.’s Jack Rose is easily a top bar in D.C., but it’s also one of the best whiskey bars in the world with a massive collection of nearly 3,000 labels. From its cellar to its hidden cocktail bar Dram & Grain, Jack Rose is the kind of place that’s like Christmas for whiskey fanatics. Bar manager Andy Bixby works with a collaborative bar team that creates the ever-changing cocktails. Alison Hillard created the Birds & Bees, a play off a classic Whiskey Sour featuring Glenmorangie single-malt scotch, given floral-citrus-bitter layers from Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto aperitivo and Aperol, balanced by honey, lemon, orange bitters and a soft layer of egg white.
Going retro at the cool Laurel Inn with its new bar, Laureate, feels like entering a friend’s comfy midcentury living room down to the plush carpet, sleek couches, brass accents and dramatic 1960s fireplace. Welcoming bar manager Sam McGinnis stepped up the cocktail offerings. With Japanese whisky’s roots in scotch, many of the flavor qualities of scotch correlate, and in fact, there’s a direct Scotland relation in Nikka Coffey Grain whisky, distilled at Japan’s Miyagikyo distillery in Coffey stills imported from Scotland in 1963. Bartender Aika Young helped create the New Neighbors, a cocktail featuring this whisky, balanced by lemon, maple, egg white and Angostura bitters, surprising with floral, grassy-green notes from St-Germain infused in matcha tea.
Nomad.PDX (no relation to the L.A.-NYC hotel of the same name) is a tasting-menu-only restaurant from chef Ryan Fox. When the intimate Ash Bar opened inside the restaurant in 2017, it brought a rare molecular culinary cocktail experience to Portland. The Blooming Thistle begins by your bartender smoking the glass with palo santo, a tree bark used in folk medicine. The savory and dry yet silky drink is a blend of The Famous Grouse Smoky Black scotch, house-made cacao liqueur infused in Havana Club añejo rum, and Lustau manzanilla sherry infused with grilled artichokes from the kitchen.
Mixing your cocktail