Scotch is booming. Jonathan Minihan, cocktail master at Melbourne’s Toff In Town and a finalist in the recent Australian Diageo Reserve World Class championships, has a theory about it.
Minihan says the boom means prices are going up. Sherry barrels used to age Scotch are getting more expensive, Japanese whiskies are shooting up in price, and standard whiskies are losing their age statement because manufacturers can’t afford to wait 12 years for basic versions to be released.
The knock-on effect, says Minihan, is that old-school Scotch-based cocktails, such as the Rob Roy, are about to enter a new phase of appreciation. “The Rob Roy is one of those forgotten cocktails, and in my opinion it’s going to come back,” says Minihan. “Over the next couple of years it’s going to be appreciated and ordered a lot more. I think the Rob Roy will be a headline cocktail.”
A simple combination of Scotch, sweet vermouth and bitters, the Rob Roy is essentially a Manhattan, but switches the Manhattan’s base of rye or bourbon for Scotch. The trick, says Minihan, is composition. “You don’t want something too smokey or spicy, because you’ll lose the balance of the sweet vermouth,” he explains. “Blended Scotches work very well in cocktails because the flavours are much more rounded, whereas single malts usually spike in a general direction, which will disrupt the balance of a Rob Roy. I’d choose a nice, well-balanced Scotch, like Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, which has this honey, vanilla-ice cream sweetness to it that would work really well.”
Minihan says the Rob Roy should be rich and sweet, with a little bitterness from the vermouth, but not so much that it blows out your tastebuds. He points to Antica Formula as the best vermouth for dark-based spirits because it accents the bolder flavours. “Some recipes call for up to 30 mls of sweet vermouth, but I prefer mine to really let the whisky shine,” he says.
One of the most important ingredients in the drink is ice. “The bigger the ice the more control you have over dilution, which always makes for a better cocktail,” explains Minihan. “Crushed or wet ice will make it dilute rapidly, which is not what you want. Large ice is better. Nail that, and you have one delicious cocktail on your hands.”
Jonathan Minihan’s Rob Roy recipe
Approximately 2.7 standard drinks.
60ml Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Scotch Whisky
20–25ml Antica Formula (sweet vermouth)
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Stir in a chilled mixing glass and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a cherry. If you don’t have any cherries (maraschino or otherwise, since maraschino can be hard to find in a supermarket) lemon or orange peel can be substituted.