My brother loves his scotch, and my uncles are the same way. I'll drink it with them at wedding receptions, and maybe on Christmas, if you can pull me away from the sweet, sweet, Maker's Mark for long enough. In my house, it's a man's drink meant to be consumed neat. Or maybe with a ice cube, if you have to.
In my cocktail making — and cocktail consuming, for that matter — experience, scotch rarely gets invited to the party. It's off in the corner wearing a tweed blazer with elbow patches, and quite frankly, it doesn't have time for you. It's possible scotch lovers just don't love cocktails. It's possible I'm just on a mission to make scotch more palatable. But I think it's time to invite scotch to your Christmas parties — and not just to please the dude-folk in your life. This is one way I really enjoy (not just tolerate!) drinking scotch.
The classic Rob Roy (sweet vermouth, scotch, a dash of bitters and a maraschino cherry) is pretty delicious on its own. The sweetness of the vermouth cuts smoky intensity of neat scotch. But for holiday's sake, a twist: replace the maraschino cherry with tart cranberries and add simple syrup flavored with cranberries, orange, vanilla and brown sugar.
The drink is super easy to make, and once you have a batch of the simple syrup, it's only three ingredients in a 1-2-1 ratio, plus the bitters. If you've got leftover cranberries from Thanksgiving, take advantage now! You can use the syrup throughout the season to sweeten your scotch. Yes, I can hear all you diehard neat scotch drinkers groaning.
For the cranberry-orange simple syrup
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- juice from 1/2 orange
- zest from 1/2 orange
- 2 tablespoons vanilla
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup water
For the cocktail
- 2 ounces scotch
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 1 ounce cranberry-orange simple syrup
- Dash of orange or angostura bitters
- Boil ingredients for simple syrup on low heat until cranberries burst and cook down. Be patient — this process might take a while! If you cook the cranberries on too high of heat, the might explode a bit wildly and spray you.
- Once the cranberries have cooked down into a smooth, sauce-like consistency (yes! this process is not unlike making cranberry sauce) remove from heat and strain remaining fruit pieces out using a mesh strainer.
- Cool simple syrup to room temperature until you're ready to use it. I always speed this process up with the freezer because I'm impatient for cocktail time.
- Add ice to a cocktail shaker with 1 ounce simple syrup, 1 ounce sweet vermouth and 2 ounces scotch. Garnish with a few fresh cranberries for extra tartness and color, and add a dash of bitters.
- You can save this your simple syrup for a few weeks in an airtight container. Obviously, give it a freshness check before serving up a bunch of party guests!
Photos and text by © Theresa Berens, 2015. All rights reserved.