It’s often said that you shouldn’t waste nice alcohol in a cocktail. This opinion is usually offered with the authoritative weight of fact: That if you have, say, a very nice bottle of whisky, the “right” way to experience it is in a glass, without ice, presumably alongside an eyedropper of branch water and a tasting notebook labeled How to Take the Fun Out of Drinking.
While it’s always wrong to tell other people how to drink, the admonition against using a pricier spirit to mix drinks is especially untrue for Scotch whisky and monumentally untrue for the Bobby Burns, composed of Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth and a kiss of the herbal French liqueur Bénédictine. (The drink has a sinewy, unsatisfying history, but its most recognizable form comes from Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book from 1930.) What sets Bobby Burns apart is its concentration of flavor and herbal charm; a Scotch Manhattan, called a Rob Roy, is a fine drink, but add the honeyed, herbal complexity of Bénédictine and it changes the game entirely. It remains a robust slow-sipper, but the liqueur offers a persistent, gentle sweetness, almost a warmth, charming to the point of enchantment. If drinking a Rob Roy is like sinking into an old leather chair, drinking a Bobby Burns is like sitting in that chair while listening to great jazz.
In a further blow to the rule-makers, what sets this cocktail yet further apart is that, while delicious with entry-level scotch, it’s dynamite with a well-aged sherried single malt. Unlike a Whiskey Sour, for example, where the lemon juice clashes with the richness of the whisky, everything in a Bobby Burns is there to celebrate the very notes you get from aging scotch in sherry barrels: The vermouth bolsters the sherry’s dried fruit; the Bénédictine showcases the spirit’s round, rich butterscotch and custard flavors; and the bitters highlight the spicy French oak. The more sherry influence in the scotch, the more these notes pop in the cocktail; the heavily sherried bottlings from the Macallan, Glendronach and Glenfarclas would all be incredible—and extremely expensive. (Feeling bold? Set aside a couple shots from the $112,000 Generations 2021.) But what can you do? Sometimes you want to enjoy a fine spirit in a cocktail. Don’t let anyone say you shouldn’t.
Check out the recipe for the Bobby Burns cocktail below:
- 2 oz sherried single-malt Scotch whisky
- 3/4 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (or other sweet vermouth)
- 1/4oz Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir for 15 to 25 seconds. Strain into a stemmed glass and garnish with a lemon twist.