Among alcohol aficionados, Scotch whisky holds a revered status, with purists advocating for its enjoyment in a straightforward manner—neat or at most, on the rocks. Nevertheless, there are a variety of scotch cocktails that are worth exploring—ranging from timeless classics to contemporary concoctions that have swiftly become staples in the modern cocktail renaissance.
Named in honour of the national poet of Scotland, Bobby Burns is a potent cocktail made with Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, and a hint of Benedictine, a herbal liqueur.
Tracing its roots back to the 1900 edition of Fancy Drink by Bishop & Babcocks, the Bobby Burns recipe boasts a venerable history. Initially referred to as Baby Burns, this same drink made with Irish whiskey, vermouth, and absinthe, was enlisted later as Robert Burns in the recipe catalogues Jack's Manual (1908) and the Drinks (1914).
As per Simon Difford, the first time that the cocktail was referred to as Bobby Burns was in the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock (1930).
Albert Stevens Crockett, the writer of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, claims that the drink was in fact concocted at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. He speculates on its nomenclature, proposing that while it might have been named as a tribute to the renowned Scotsman, there's a likelihood that it was christened in honour of a cigar salesman frequenting the Old Bar at the esteemed hotel.
Over the years, this classic concoction has undergone various transformations – think daring deviations like using Irish Whiskey and playing around with proportions. Some renditions even kept it casual, going by the straightforward moniker Bobby. But others, like the 1948 recipe in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks swaps Bénédictine for Drambuie (Scotch whisky) and adds bitters.
It's a twist on the Rob Roy, named after the eponymous legendary folk hero of Scotland. This drink, which is essentially a Scotch-infused Manhattan, earned its name from an opera on Rob Roy that graced the New York stage in the late 19th century.
Robert Burns himself, sadly, never had a taste of the cocktail named in his honour, having passed away in 1796, a time predating the very term 'cocktail.' But in order to understand the relation between the drink and the poet, it’s important to examine the indelible impact of poetic prowess in both Scotch Gaelic and English.
Five years after the death of the Scottish cultural icon, a circle of his ardent friends keen on celebrating his life and literary contributions kickstarted the Robbie Burns dinner on January 25, on his birth anniversary.
Referred to as Robert Burns Day, this date has evolved into Scotland's unofficial National Day, surpassing the official national observance of St. Andrew’s Day in widespread celebration. The focal point of the celebration in the Burns Supper or Burns Night is recitations of Burns poetry, and of course, sipping on Bobby Burns.
Add the Scotch, vermouth and Benedictine to a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a cocktail glass.
Twist a lemon peel over the glass to release its oils and then drop it into the drink.