Despite the unwavering beliefs of certain cigar-smoking, sporting gentlemen, Scotch is made for drinking how you like it. For some, that means topping it with soda, like Coke or ginger ale; for others, it means adding a hefty measure of water; for others still, it might mean mixing it in a cocktail.
However, while there aren’t precise rules regarding how to mix the spirit in a cocktail, there are certainly some guidelines worth following. “For me, the Scotch has to taste great on its own, if I am going to use it in a drink on our cocktail menu,” says Michael Hajiyianni, general manager at Ruby in Copenhagen, who suggests adding lighter Scotches to highballs, reserving more robust bottles for stirring into spirit-forward drinks.
One of the primary considerations when buying a Scotch for mixing is whether it’s a single malt or blended Scotch. The latter is the most common style of whisky used in cocktails, as most are bottled at a cocktail-friendly ABV, between 40 and 45 percent. They often contain both malt and grain whiskies, depending on the brand, and therefore have the character to stand up in a cocktail.
But single malt has become a more popular backbar item over the last decade, despite the higher price tag. “These days, there are more ‘cocktail-friendly’ single malts on the market,” says Samantha Casuga, head bartender at Temple Bar in New York, referring to the range of new options at an affordable price point. Casuga also notes that, while the spirit is typically consumed neat, single malts offer more control when selecting a Scotch for a cocktail, as bartenders can home in on specific flavor notes, rather than having to rely on a blend.
Even within these categories, though, there are nuances dependent upon region and each distillery’s unique production methods. For example, “Islay whisky is famous for being heavily peated [i.e., smoky] with hints of brine from the salty sea air, and is perfect for more robust cocktails,” says Maroš Dzurus, bar manager at Himkok in Oslo, Norway. “Lowland single malts are known for being light and soft, and Speyside malts are generous with fruity flavors.”
To sift through the innumerable Scotch whiskies on the market and determine the best ones for mixing, we tapped bartenders from around the world for their go-to recommendations.