Rob Roy – How to Make the Classic Scotch Whisky Variation on the Manhattan Cocktail

Here’s how to make the classic cocktail, Rob Roy, which uses Scotch Whisky, Sweet Vermouth, Orange Bitters and Maraschino Cherries. It’s very similar to a Manhattan, but the Scotch and the Orange Bitters make all the difference.

This drink is said to be an invention of an 1890’s Waldorf-Astoria bartender. It was supposedly invented for the Broadway premiere of Rob Roy, a production based on the life of Scottish folk hero and Robin Hood equivalent, Rob Roy Macgregor. Some of the details and specifics of this history can be a little murky, so it’s hard to say that with any real certainty. But no matter what its lineage is, the Rob Roy is a great cocktail.

A lot of recipes call for this one to be made with aromatic bitters. That’s because for a long time, orange bitters were not readily available. From the 1930’s to the 1960’s, Orange Bitters were less and less popular, until they virtually vanished. They didn’t get back in circulation until the late 2000’s. So during that time (1960’s to 2000’s), aromatic bitters were swapped in as a replacement. However, the flavors of each are completely different. The Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, published just after Prohibition, called for Orange Bitters in this recipe, and it makes a big difference.

Another difference is the garnish. The Waldorf-Astoria recipe did not specify a garnish. Some recipes call for a lemon twist. This is fine and gives the drink a different dimension. However, I feel the Maraschino Cherry better compliments the sweet vermouth. So, the choice of garnish is up to you. If you use a cherry, make sure it’s meant for cocktails. Either make your own ( or buy some quality cherries (Amazon link below). Don’t use the bleached, mutant cherries that are used on a hot fudge sundae.

The selection of Scotch is dealer’s choice. I like using The Black Grouse because I’m a sucker for smokier flavors, but the original Scotch for this cocktail was most likely Dewar’s because it was one of the earliest Scotch brands in America. This drink is really built for a blended Scotch, so Single Malts need not apply. Besides you don’t want your Single Malt Fanatic friends to tear you a new one for using a Single Malt in a cocktail.

The choice of sweet vermouth is also up to you. I used Carpano Antica because it really plays well with the smokier Scotch, but it may be too overpowering for a Dewar’s. So, Dolin is always a good option. No matter what brand you use, make sure it’s a fresh bottle. Unlike other higher proof spirits, vermouth goes bad after about 3 weeks of being opened. So, stick to the smaller bottles and keep them in the fridge. You’ll be glad you did and so will your Rob Roy. Cheers! …or I mean, Slàinte Mhath!

2 oz Scotch
0.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters
garnish Maraschino Cherries

Stir with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherries.

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Featured in This Episode:

The Black Grouse

Carpano Antica

Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

The Famous Grouse


Bar Tools:

Nick & Nora Glass

OXO Graduated Double Jigger

Hawthorne Strainer

Mixing Glass

Fancy Toothpicks


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