Whether in a comfy chair at home or on a stool in a trendy bar, there are few things better than sipping a good whiskey cocktail. Whiskey is a versatile spirit that adapts and shines when mixed creatively. Here we pick 10 of the all-time classics that will inspire you to start shaking and stirring.
The blood and the sand
A wonderful whiskey cocktail often described as a cocktail whiskey haters will love. The recipe first appeared in the 1930 edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book and contains equal parts Scotch whiskey (a good blend or a Speyside single malt works best), cherry brandy liqueur, sweet red vermouth and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Everything is shaken with ice and then poured into a coupe glass with a hint of orange zest as a garnish. Said to be named after Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 bullfighting film Blood And Sand. Delightful.
The Hot Toddy
This classic was all the rage in mid-Victorian Britain and was the way most people drank their whiskey. The name has colonial roots – toddy is a fermented Indian drink made from palm juice.
Combine blended Scotch, a dollop of honey and a squeeze of lemon, all topped off with boiling water in a mug or grog glass if you can find one. You can flavor it with cloves, a cinnamon stick, or a piece of fresh ginger.
Today it is best known as a cold and flu remedy and also known as Hot Whiskey (if using Irish whiskey) or Grog (if using rum).
One of the quintessential whiskey cocktails, there are conflicting stories about the origin of the drink. It appears to have emerged from The Manhattan Club in New York with the first recipe appearing in OH Byron’s book The Modern Bartender’s Guide in 1884. This used American rye whiskey (although bourbon or Canadian whiskey is now commonly used), dry vermouth, and a dash of bitters, all topped with a twist of lemon zest.
You can ask for a sweeter version with sweet red vermouth, cherry syrup, and a cherry garnish. Whatever you choose, it should be served in a chilled martini glass.
The Mint Julep
An iconic American drink that is a true thoroughbred among cocktails. Its origins are a bit uncertain, but it has been associated with the famous Kentucky Derby horse race for over 80 years. It has been the official drink of the world famous event every year since its introduction in 1938.
Fresh mint leaves are crushed and then mixed with a generous splash of bourbon, sugar syrup and a few dashes of bitters. Shaken with ice, then poured into a metal cup filled with crushed ice and garnished with a sprig of fresh mint. So refreshing.
the old fashioned
Considered by many to be the original whiskey cocktail. The first reference can be found in 1806 and places it right at the beginning of the cocktail era. The recipe has changed little in 200 years and has stood the test of time. Traditionalists will insist on rye whiskey, but bourbon is commonly used and makes a fantastic substitute.
Soak a sugar cube with bitters in a tumbler and crush it. Then add a high-quality whiskey and some large chunks of ice and stir. And stir. And stir. This offers great theater when prepared by a good bartender. Garnish with orange zest.
A modern classic, first created in 2005 by Sam Ross at New York’s renowned Milk & Honey bar. This stunning cocktail combines two Scotch whiskeys (four parts blended or Speyside single malt to one part peated Islay single malt) with ginger liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey syrup (that’s honey diluted with a splash of water). Shake together with ice, then pour into a rocks glass or tumbler over a large chunk of ice. Garnish with ginger.
Packed with honeyed richness, subtle smoke and warming ginger spice. Fantastic.
De Rob Roy
This is Scotch’s answer to the Manhattan. It was recreated in New York, but at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the Empire State Building now stands, in 1894. It was mistakenly thought to be named after Scottish folk hero and outlaw Robert Roy MacGregor, instead it was inspired by Rob Roy – a Broadway musical at the time.
Like the Manhattan, sweet red vermouth and bitters are used. However, replace the rye whiskey with a sweet Scotch, such as a rich blend, or Speyside single malt.
The rusty nail
Another classic Scotch whiskey cocktail made popular in the 1950s and 1960s by the Rat Pack in New York. This is one of the simplest cocktails you can make – combine three part Scotch whiskey (a good blend, sweet Speyside or Highland single malt works very well) with one part Drambuie whiskey liqueur. It has to be Drambuie or it’s not Rusty Nail.
The lovely honeyed and spicy notes of the liqueur add wonderful depth and complexity to the drink. Pour into a tumbler with ice and garnish with a hint of lemon zest.
Old recipes from the early 1800s show that a similar drink is made with brandy. The whiskey version first appeared in 1873 at the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans. The brandy industry had been devastated by phylloxera (a pest of grapevines), so owner Thomas Handy replaced it with local rye whiskey. The rest is history and one of the world’s classic whiskey cocktails was born.
Stir rye with a dash or two of bitters, sugar syrup and ice, then pour into a stone glass or tumbler that has been rinsed with absinthe. It’s spicy. Garnish with a dash of lemon zest.
The Whiskey Sour
Said to have evolved from Punch, the historic rum-based drink once used by sailors to prevent scurvy, the Whiskey Sour is another that has stood the test of time. Shake a mixture of American whiskey (usually bourbon), a generous amount of lemon juice, egg whites and sugar together to make a delicious silky smooth cocktail. Serve in a rocks glass with ice and garnish with a squeeze of lemon and a cherry.
Adding a splash of red wine gives you the equally delicious New York Sour. Give it a try. Damn, try them all.