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We Asked 25 Bartenders: What’s the Best Scotch for Cocktails?

While perfect when sipped on its own, Scotch makes an excellent cocktail base that’s nuanced, complex, and worth the effort no matter the season. However, choosing a bottle to complement your next nightcap while also being kind to your wallet can prove to be a complicated task.

Thankfully, 25 bartenders from around the world have come to the rescue. We asked them for their tried-and-true Scotch whiskies for the next time you’re craving a Penicillin, a Rob Roy, or even a twist on warm-weather classics like a Piña Colada. Keep reading for the Scotches bartenders love to use when mixing up cocktails, along with drink ideas that will fit seamlessly into your summertime repertoire.

The best Scotch for mixing cocktails, according to bartenders:

Speyburn 10 Year
Ardbeg 10 Year
Highland Park 12 Year
Monkey Shoulder
Campbeltown Loch
WM Cadenhead Auchentoshan 11 Year
Glenlivet Founders Reserve
Duncan Taylor Scottish Glory
Compass Box Asyla
Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Year
The Dalmore 12
Talisker 10
The Naked Grouse
The Macallan 12 Year Sherry Oak
Compass Box Artist Blend
Ardray Blended Scotch Whisky
Johnnie Walker Black
Glenmorangie 10
Isle of Skye Blended 8 Year Whisky
Murray McDavid Cask Craft Series
Dornoch Distillery Redacted Bros. 8 Year Old SRV5 Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Jura 10 or 12 Year
Talisker Storm
Laphroaig 10 Year

“I’m a big fan of Speyburn 10 Year as a classic Speyside malt that delivers all of the buttery, bisquity notes you want for that style at a price that is perfect for cocktail margins. At the other end of the spectrum, my go-to Islay malt is Ardbeg 10 Year for a great balance of smoke and fruit that adds that unique layer of complexity that defines the category.” —H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner, Elixir Saloon, San Francisco

“I’d say it depends on the style of cocktail you’re making since Scotch is such a large category with a wide variety of products depending on region and production. I enjoy utilizing Highland Park 12 Year Single Malt Scotch in cocktails, especially Manhattan variations. It’s aged in a mix of European and American sherry-seasoned casks and the peat is present but balanced, so I find it fun to mix with other whiskies and fruit brandies like bonded apple brandy.” —Alex Jump, bartender and founder, Focus on Health, Denver

Monkey Shoulder is made for mixing and it’s my absolute go-to choice for Scotch cocktails. It is a blended malt Scotch whisky, so has incredible body and mouthfeel but with a really balanced, non-smoky, approachable flavor profile that hits home in a classic Old Fashioned, a refreshing highball, or even a Piña Colada. Right now, I love using it in a Paper Plane variation. It’s a slam-dunk no matter the cocktail.” —Charlotte Voisey, master mixologist, two fifteen, NYC

“Campbeltown Loch is my current go-to for smoke in cocktails. I love the buttery notes and the hints of tobacco from the smoke profile. For single malts, I love independent-bottler Scotches and think they are some of the best in terms of flavor and value. Bottlers like Wm Cadenheads source great drams from major distilleries and put out amazing age-statement Scotch for less than what you would pay for the same brand’s mark. We have an 11-year Auchentoshan from them that might be the best spirit on our back bar.” —Karl Goranowski, bartender/beverage director, BATA, Tucson, Ariz.

Glenlivet Founders Reserve is my go-to single malt Scotch for mixing cocktails. The subtle hints of vanilla, honey, and pear provide a smooth balance of flavors that seamlessly integrates with] a variety of cocktail ingredients.” —Melina Meza, beverage director, Level 8, Los Angeles

“The handiest bottle of Scotch whisky I have for mixing cocktails is Duncan Taylor Scottish Glory. Distilled in the Highlands, Scottish Glory is a blended whisky that will not break the bank and acts as an absolute workhorse for cocktailing. Fruity on the nose with gentle spice on the palate, it plays well with others, making it a great candidate for a cocktail on its own or for splitting with other whiskies of bolder flavor profiles.” —Joel Lee Kulp, owner & general manager, The Richardson, Brooklyn

“Choosing a Scotch for cocktails can be tricky, as there is so much variety in flavor profile across the category. For cocktails, I would go with a blended Scotch over a single malt, and avoid anything peated as that could overpower most cocktails (unless you’re using it in a very specific cocktail that requires that smokiness). My go-to cocktail Scotch is Asyla by Compass Box. It’s a blended Scotch that has a touch of sweetness, making it very smooth. It has a bright citrus flavor profile rounded off with a delicate vanilla cream finish. Absolutely delicious and very versatile.” —Ruairi Gilles, director of beverage, Crawford’s Social, Westlake Village, Calif.

“Scotch, often revered for its depth and complexity, tends to be enjoyed neat by aficionados. However, when mixing, I reach for Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Year. Its rum-cask finish adds a tropical twist to the single malt, and a simple addition of water or soda can elevate its character. Alternatively, it can be married with the honeyed warmth of Drambuie for a classic Rusty Nail.” —Jodi Zuber, general manager, Bobby Nashville Rooftop Lounge, Nashville, Tenn.

“The best Scotch for mixing cocktails are blended Scotches … [but] if you are looking for depth of flavor or a stronger spirit backbone, I would recommend The Dalmore 12 from the Highland region.” —Jaime Mataro, senior food and beverage manager, The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, San Francisco

“I would choose Talisker 10. As a greatly underappreciated Isle Scotch, this delicious make has very well-balanced oak, ocean, and smoke characteristics, plus a distinct finish with notes of saline, apples, and pears. Though it is not the cheapest, it creates exotic and complex sours, highballs, and Negronis.” —Allan Camarena, head bartender, Pendry West Hollywood, Los Angeles

“My favorite cocktail Scotch is the Naked Grouse from Famous Grouse. The Naked Grouse gets its name because it is finished in first-use oloroso sherry barrels. This gives it an extra layer of flavor and a rounder finish that makes it a step up from the typical Famous Grouse blended Scotch that you see more often at bars. At the same time, the Naked Grouse is still an affordable option, usually priced between $30 and $40, which is hard to beat when it comes to Scotches.” —Harry Jamison, general manager, a.kitchen+bar, Philadelphia

“That’s like asking which shoes I should wear with a dress. What’s the dress look like? Where are you going? Scotch isn’t black and white, it’s a kaleidoscope of color. This gives us the gift and pleasure of diving into the nuance of each and how it pairs with the other ingredients of our cocktail. [Try] Lagavulin for that diesel smoke, Talisker for that whisper of peat, or Highland Park for something more subtle. Embrace the deep dive!” —Sam Rethmeier, beverage consultant, Yangban, Los Angeles

The Macallan 12 Sherry Oak is one of the best Scotch whiskies you can find in a cocktail. The whiskey itself is preserved in sherry oak from northern Spain, which delivers exceptional smoothness and rich flavor notes. The best cocktail you can make with this spirit has to be an Old Fashioned (I know, it’s not bourbon, but you must give it a shot).” —Mike Tapu, head bartender, The Fuji Grill at Beaverbrook Town House, London

“I go back and forth between two Scotches: Laphroaig and Compass Box Artist Blend. The Laphroaig offers bold, smoky flavors and reminds me of grilling pineapple on a humid day. The peatiness is strong enough to hold up against other loud notes like ginger, cinnamon, or absinthe. I like to use Laphroaig in cocktails like a Penicillin or The Modern. The Artist Blend, on the other hand, has a softer profile that can let other flavors shine while still subtly lending the standard Scotch notes people love to a drink. This Scotch tends to complement fruit and spice, as found in a Churchill, Mamie Taylor, or Blood and Sand. Recently, I had the Artist Blend in a Grapefruit Collins and it was delicious!” —Gee Lee, lead bartender, Loch Bar Houston, Houston

“I just fell in love with a new Scotch launched recently: Ardray Blended Scotch. It’s great for mixing, with a creamy texture intertwined with floral notes. While some may argue that the best Scotches should be savored neat, the versatility and complexity of Ardray lends itself to some beautiful [and] tasty cocktails.” —Elvis Rosario, beverage director, Chica & The Don, NYC

“My Scotch of choice is Johnnie Walker Black, which is featured in our well-balanced yet wonderfully unique signature cocktail The River Ran Dry. We add smoky mezcal which pairs beautifully with the Scotch, and balances the acidity and sweetness of this New York Sour variation.” —Hans Hockler, head bartender, Cedar Lakes Estate, Port Jervis, N.Y.

“I think you need something buttery that’s not going to overpower the flavors of your cocktail. I would go with Glenmorangie 10. You may not find it in your well, but whether it be a Penicillin or Rob Roy, it’s going to play beautifully with the other flavors present.” —Clay Sears, beverage director, Virginia’s, NYC

“Isle of Skye Blended 8 Year Whisky. As with any whisky cocktail, you need to find that sweet spot between having a base spirit that has enough character without dominating the cocktail. When you throw in the price-point concerns, Isle of Skye hits a lot of marks that make it a great option for a number of classic Scotch-based cocktails.” —Dane Borgstrom, director of operations, The Rose Venice, Venice, Calif.

“GlenDronach, to me, is a single malt I can reach for in a multitude of ways when developing cocktails. The layers of complexity, even in the younger expressions, give you so much to work with and draw from while creating. The jammy dried fruit notes, strong but approachable spice, and the heat allow you to add homemade syrups or liqueurs [to your build] without overpowering the Scotch itself. It holds up to citrus [and] acids, and dances through stirred cocktails. It’s kind of the epitome of ‘if you have a good foundation, it’s hard to mess up.’ It’s just a really good single malt with a defined flavor profile to draw through lines to and from.” —Ramsey Musk, beverage director, Accomplice, Little Fatty, Los Angeles

“We enjoy using the Cask Craft series from independent bottler Murray McDavid for their precise flavors and craft presentation. The lineup features everything from a peated cask to Madeira and Port finishes, and is great at steering unexpected seasonality out of a normally bold cold-weather spirit. With a bouquet of orchard fruit and floral honey, the Madeira finish takes particularly well to warmer-weather-drinking in both an Old Fashioned with some peach bitters and a Daisy with fresh lemon and good-quality orange liqueur.” —Thomas Mahne, bar manager, The Lexington, Boston

“Dornoch Distillery Redacted Bros. 8 Year Old SRV5 Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. This beautiful Scotch is a blend of Islay and Northern Highland whiskies from some absolute mavericks in the distillery game. With fruit upfront, a gentle smokiness, and lovely mouthfeel on the finish, it’s just incredibly versatile in the bar. The 48.5 percent ABV gives it enough power to stand up to other assertive flavors and dilution when mixing. It’s also just a delight to drink on its own! It makes a dynamite Boulevardier; the smoke plays with the bitter brightness of Campari and really elevates the template. I also like it in bright, citrusy drinks. The fruit and smoke go wonderfully with lemon and ginger.” —Evan Williams, bar director, Dalida, San Francisco

“When it comes to creating Scotch-based cocktails, Monkey Shoulder is undoubtedly my top choice. Their perfected techniques in crafting an optimal blended Scotch whisky speaks volumes about their craftsmanship. It strikes the perfect balance, offering a more rounded flavor profile than other aged Scotches. This facilitates welcoming newcomers willing to try the spirit for the first time in a cocktail, while still delivering the essential notes that any veteran Scotch drinker is looking to enjoy.” —Randy Castillo, mixologist, Proper Grit Whiskey Library & Supper Club at The Ben West Palm, Autograph Collection, West Palm Beach, Fla.

“Unlike big, new-oaked American whiskeys, many Scotches can be subtle and undemanding in a drink. I think they act as great balancing agents. My go-to for this is Jura’s 10 or 12 Year age statements. They are soft, mildly spiced, level on the palate, and are great at enhancing both rich and light tones in a drink. They also have a great price point.” —Dave Purcell, beverage director, The Waterfront, Venice, Calif.

“Talisker Storm certainly is one of my favorites to make a cocktail with. This 10-year single malt is complex and peppery with a bold smoky profile you expect from any Scotch, but with enough oak profile for it to feel familiar to a bourbon drinker. I use it fat-washed in brown butter with a miso caramel for a fun and nostalgic dessert drink. I also stir it with crème de banane and Suze for a nutty and bittersweet Boulevardier play. A reasonable cost per ounce makes it bartender-friendly, too.” —Travis Gauvin, bartender, Sur Lie, Portland, Maine

“I think Laphroaig 10 Year is the best Scotch for mixing cocktails. It has a unique flavor profile with smoky, peaty, and saline notes. Its complexity adds depth to cocktails, while its strength allows it to stand out even in the most elaborate cocktails. This makes it an ideal choice for those seeking a complete sensory experience.” —Morgan Neveu, bar supervisor, Hotel Dame Des Arts, Paris

The article We Asked 25 Bartenders: What’s the Best Scotch for Cocktails? appeared first on VinePair.

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