The mixology community has long embraced American whiskies, but Scotch has been a different story. “There are a handful of classic cocktails made with Scotch, but most classics are made specifically with American whiskey,” says Matt Tocco, beverage director for Nashville, Tennessee–based restaurant group Strategic Hospitality. “I think most of Scotch’s popularity still comes from those who sip it neat and not in cocktails.” Strategic owns and operates nine Nashville properties, including The Patterson House and Pinewood Social.
Andrew Abrahamson, director of single-spirit bars for the Los Angeles–based 213 Hospitality—which operates the whisk(e)y-focused venue Seven Grand in Los Angeles and San Diego, among others—also isn’t seeing Scotch being embraced by cocktail drinkers as much as they do other whiskies. “In my experience, American and Irish whiskies are still king when it comes to cocktails,” he says.
But that situation is gradually shifting, thanks to the creativity of today’s top bartenders and their willingness to explore new possibilities in the glass, says E. Carter Wilsford, bartender at Analogue in New York City. “Scotch has long been overlooked in mixology, but with the proliferation of both professionals and consumers who care about cocktails and want to experience something new, Scotch is due for a boom,” he notes.
At the Los Angeles Seven Grand, general manager Victor Delgado created The Donnie ($14), a simple sour featuring Ardbeg 10-year-old single malt Scotch, honey, egg white, lemon and lime juices, and Angostura bitters. Another of Delgado’s cocktails, The Walter ($13), exhibits tiki-inspired flavors, comprising Laphroaig Quarter Cask single malt Scotch, simple syrup, lemon and pineapple juices, and mint.
“Scotch has some unique flavors that aren’t really found in other spirits, like salt, honeysuckle and marzipan,” Analogue’s Wilsford says. Analogue head bartender Zack Berger agrees, noting that differences in flavor depend on the spirit’s production process, as well as the region where it’s distilled. His Dorian Gray cocktail ($14) features Black Bottle blended Scotch, Pür Likör Williams Pear liqueur, Dolin Dry vermouth, lemon juice, house-made rosemary maple syrup and Angostura bitters. “Scotch allows us to create cocktails that have incredible balance but are entirely new for most consumers,” Berger adds. “It’s very exciting.”
This past October, Diageo announced a new mixology-driven program for Johnnie Walker blended Scotch that extends its “Keep Walking America” marketing campaign. The initiative, named “Flavors of America,” promotes Johnnie Walker’s mixability in various cocktail creations. The brand partnered with 11 mixologists across the country to create a total of 48 new cocktails made with Johnnie Walker Red Label, Black Label and Double Black Label blended Scotch whiskies. The recipes highlight the unique cultural background of each mixologist, as well as the flavors of their local markets.
Miami-based mixologist and cocktail consultant Gabe Orta serves as the national ambassador and face of the Johnnie Walker campaign. His Flavors of America cocktails range from the fruity and complex Andès Road, comprising Johnnie Walker Red, Kübler absinthe, simple syrup, soda water, and passion fruit and lemon juices, to the bold and spicy Smoky Jamrock, featuring Johnnie Walker Black and Double Black, homemade Jamaican syrup—comprising white sugar, ginger and allspice—and fresh lemon juice. “People who overlook using Scotch as a base spirit in cocktails are really missing out,” Orta says. “Scotch can add great depth to a drink. For example, the smoky notes in Johnnie Walker Double Black bring a complex layer to a whisky-based cocktail and play well with a variety of other flavors.”
Allan Roth, New York City brand ambassador for the Glenfiddich single malt Scotch brand, notes that today’s bartenders are beginning to look past classic whisk(e)y-based cocktails to explore other options and develop their own recipes. “We’re seeing an increasing number of bartenders really look into the flavors of Scotch whisky to see which types of cocktails they’re best suited for,” he says.
Indeed, as mixologists explore the Scotch category and become well acquainted with each style and brand, they discover that the cocktail options are endless and Scotch isn’t as daunting as many make it out to be. “Cocktails are the perfect way to introduce people to Scotch in a way that’s less frightening than a straight dram,” says Auchentoshan brand ambassador Robin Nance. “Scotch has always had the reputation of being best enjoyed neat or with a touch of water, but today’s more educated bartenders and consumers have opened the door to experimentation and torn down the walls of what should or shouldn’t be done with certain spirits.”