Winter Drinks: Improved Scotch Cocktail


Scotch, Benedictine, demerara syrup, and two types of bitters combine to form a smoky cold-weather cocktail. [Photographs: Nick Guy]

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A Scotch cocktail can be simple: whisky, sugar or honey, bitters, ice. Looking for "a drink that warms and soothes" in a season of bitter cold, Kyle Davidson of Blackbird in Chicago changed the equation a bit, bringing some complexity to the cocktail's flavor without overcomplicating it.

Davidson sweetens the drink with small amounts of Benedictine and demerara simple syrup. Despite their low overall volume—a quarter ounce, total, compared to the two ounces of Scotch—the flavors come through. Benedictine has an herbal, honeyed aspect, while the demerara brings a dark, caramelly sweetness, ready to match up to whisky.

The flavor of the cocktail will depend heavily on the Scotch you use. With Davidson's recommended Springbank 10 Year, there's a very strong peatiness that isn't hidden behind the sweet; it's anything but shy. We also tried the recipe with Speyburn Brandan Orach, a Speyside whisky with much less smoke. It's a far mellower drink, and may be more approachable for first-time Scotch drinkers. Either way, Scotch is still the star; the base spirit isn't hidden, just enhanced.

Liquor samples for this series were provided for recipe testing.