How to Drink Scotch: 4 Mixed Drinks to Ease You In

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

I love scotch. I like to think this has to do with my Scottish ancestry. My senses thrill to the aroma of peaty bogs and highland breezes. When sipping a complex, peaty scotch, I feel fully and deeply alive.

But straight scotch is not for everyone. (“Tastes great, except for the smoke flavor”, one friend said.) It can be a bit brash, especially if you’re not in the habit of sipping hard liquor. Another friend requested suggestions for ways of drinking scotch so that the full flavor of the scotch would come through, without being too overwhelming.

This is sort of a tricky request, because scotch is notoriously hard to mix. Scotch is the one girl in the room who gets all the attention, dominating the conversation with its irrepressible smokiness. There are, however, a few scotch cocktails that beat the odds. Armed with a run-of-the-mill blended scotch, and also a gloriously smoky Islay single malt, I sat down to do a little research. Here, the results, in order from least to most hardcore.

1. Mamie Taylor
I know that “girly scotch cocktail” sounds like an oxymoron, but this combo of scotch, lime juice and ginger beer is about as girly as scotch cocktails come. I could totally see myself sipping one of these by the pool on a summer day.

Verdict: This is a delicious drink, and a great way to consume 2 oz of scotch while hardly realizing it.
Use: The cheap blended scotch.

2. The Blood & Sand
Named for a Rudolph Valentino movie, this mix of scotch, orange juice, sweet vermouth, and Cherry Heering is a real cocktail classic. Best drunk in your loveliest vintage stemware.

Verdict: I’ve had this drink at bars before, but I just made my first one at home. The smoky Islay definitely adds something, but I’m not sure this is a drink that really calls for smokiness. The Blood & Sand is not too sweet, perfectly balanced, and will taste just fine with a blended scotch.
Use: The cheap blended scotch.

3. The Godfather
Two parts scotch, one part amaretto. Surprisingly palatable.

Verdict: This is an interesting cocktail. When I mixed it with the less flavorful scotch, I found it be goshawfully sweet. The one made with the single malt was much better – the amaretto moderated the flavor of the scotch, without overpowering it.
Use: The smoky single malt, if you can stand to mix a single-malt scotch with amaretto.

4. Scotch Cocktail
The Scotch cocktail (made in the true cocktail style) is for you if you are almost there. You like the taste of scotch, but you can’t quite warm to the burn of straight alcohol. Here’s how you make a scotch cocktail: Add a sugar cube (or 1 tsp of sugar) to the bottom of a rocks glass. Anoint the cube with 2 dashes of angostura bitters and muddle until well smooshed. Add as many cubes of ice as you desire, cover with 2 oz of scotch, and stir enough to get all the ingredients acquainted.

Or try this version: Add 1 tsp oz of honey to the bottom of a rocks glass. To the honey add 1 tbsp of hot water and a generous dash of bitters. Stir until the honey is mixed. Add a few rocks and 2 oz of scotch and stir again.

Verdict: The bitters and sugar take off some of the edge but none of the smoke. Nancy like.
Use: The smoky single malt.

What do you think? Any cocktails that were unjustly left off the list? How do you drink your scotch?

Nancy Mitchell is an equal-opportunity scotch drinker. You can find more of her recipes on her blog, The Backyard Bartender.

(Image: Nancy Mitchell. Yes, my Christmas tree is still up. Don’t judge. )