Six World-Famous Whisky Cocktails You Should Know

17 August 2015

Mankind first discovered alcohol centuries ago but even historians find it difficult to pinpoint exactly when, where and by whom the conversion from ordinary foods to a liquid form of pleasure and goodness was made.

You can’t even begin to imagine how dubious the quality of this first type of alcohol was but, personally, my own curiosity would definitely tempt me to taste it, even if it was only a sip and no more!

It’s no surprise that during all this time, mankind has always tried to disguise alcohol in all its forms, masking its unpleasantness and highlighting its merits where and whenever appropriate. The most common method of doing this is via the ‘cocktail’ of course.

I could talk endlessly about cocktails and the history of famous bars and bartenders around the world, but today I want to talk about cocktails created using whisky.

During the past 20-30 years, there has been a global boom in cocktail-making and the bar industry in general. In recent years, good old classics have seen a surge in popularity and they have reignited consumer-interest again. Read any bartender’s handbook or Encyclopaedia and you’ll always find an incredible number of different drinks all based on a spirit of ‘eau de vie’ – French for ‘water of life’. You’ll also find that most cocktails have American roots and, consequently, bourbon or rye whiskey are used to make them.

Well, single malt Scotch whisky can be used to make your favourite recipes too. Here are six of my favourites and the stories behind them:

The Sazerac

Among the first cocktails in the history of this industry, the creation of the Sazerac takes us back to the 19th century. Initially, this cocktail was made with brandy but, during a time of great crisis in France when the destructive insect ‘phylloxera’ destroyed most of its vineyards, the world's wine and brandy production came to a grinding halt and rye whiskey was subsequently used as a substitute ingredient. Today, bartenders often used a mix of both rye whiskey and cognac, creating a rather mysterious taste along with aromatic bitters, a sugar cube, a sufficient amount of ice and absinthe to cover both the outside and inside of the glass. As a result, it is an incredibly strong and richly flavoured serve. Even if it's not to your taste, you should try it at least once.


 - 1 sugar cube
 - Hudson Manhattan Rye whiskey (60 ml)
 - Peychaud's bitters (2 dashes)
 - Absinthe (1 barspoon)
 - Lemon peel


In an Old-Fashioned glass or in a mixing glass, muddle a sugar cube with a few drops of water. Add several small ice cubes and the whiskey, plus the Peychaud's bitters.

Stir well and strain into a second, chilled, Old-Fashioned glass in which you have rolled around a few drops of absinthe until its inside is thoroughly coated, pouring off the excess. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

The Rusty Nail

It's always great when the birth of a drink is associated with an interesting story, as is the case with the famous Rusty Nail cocktail. As the legend goes, this cocktail was first created in a bar in Scotland. One evening, an Englishman came into the bar but, for reasons unbeknown, the bartender was not pleased to see him. However, the said visitor was extremely interested in the Drambuie liqueur on display and asked if he could add it to his dram of whisky. The bartender reluctantly poured this magnificent honey liqueur into his glass.

‘What about mixing it?’ said the guest.

‘Take a nail from the stand’ said the bartender.

The challenge was accepted; the guest mixed the drink with the rusty nail and so the cocktail got its name.

The Rusty Nail is an unbelievably charismatic cocktail and easy to make. You’ll need good Scotch whisky (perhaps a blend like Monkey Shoulder), Drambuie liqueur, ice and, most importantly, a good mood! The soft taste of honey liqueur gives the drink a moderate taste of honey and herbs to counteract the taste of whisky to ensure it remains balanced.


 - Monkey Shoulder Blend Malt Scotch whisky (60 ml)
 - Drambuie liqueur (15 ml)
 - Lemon peel


In a mixing glass add several ice cubes and whisky with Drambuie. Stir well and strain into a chilled Old-Fashioned glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

The Boulevardier

Another remarkable whisky cocktail is the Boulevardier, also known as the Bourbon Negroni. Some class it as a tribute to the Parisian youth of days gone by, when young men would saunter freely along the city’s boulevards and embankments, blowing kisses to pretty ladies. As far as taste goes, the cocktail is pretty bold but pleasant nonetheless. It possesses an excellent balance of tastes: bourbon and sweet vermouth shaded by fragrant bitter and levelled by the finest essential nuances of orange peel.


 - Hudson Baby Bourbon whiskey (40 ml)
 - Campari (30 ml)
 - Sweet Italian vermouth (30 g)
 - Orange slice, lemon twist or cherry 


Stir ingredients well with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish.

The Old Fashioned 

The next cocktail is an official drink of the International Bartenders Association, a serve that gave a name to a specific type of glass and was a favourite tipple of President Harry S. Truman and his wife, not to mention Mad Men’s Don Draper. I’m talking about the Old Fashioned, of course. 

The Old Fashioned was born in America during the 1880s thanks to Colonel James E.Pepper, a bartender who made whiskey in his own distillery and who subsequently began ordering it in every bar he frequented.

Its famous recipe has stayed true over the years and it remains a classic to this day. Enough said.


 - 1 sugar cube
 - Hudson Manhattan Rye whiskey or Monkey Shoulder Scotch whisky (60 ml)
 - Angostura bitters (3 dashes)
 - Club soda
 - Orange peel


Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler or strong spoon. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining. Add a large ice cube. Pour in the rye (or scotch). Serve with a stirring rod and twist of orange peel.

The Penicillin 

United by strength, acidity and sweetness, whisky naturally fits under the umbrella of ‘sour cocktails’. Sours are very tasty and will please even the most demanding palates, so harmonious is the balance between the whisky and sweet/sour body of the drink itself.

The modern interpretation of the classical sour with whiskey is ‘The Penicillin’. Here, the drink’s honey sweetness sets off burning ginger notes to create a smoky fusion in the most unexpected way! It’s not an easy cocktail to prepare though, so I’d leave it to the professionals and advise ordering this one at the bar.


 - Grant’s 8 YO blend Scotch whisky (50 ml)
 - Fresh lemon juice (15 ml)
 - Ginger syrup (10 ml)
 - Honey (10 ml)
 - Splash of The Balvenie Peated Cask 17 YO Single Malt Scotch whisky
 - Lemon peel


Shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker (without The Balvenie). Pour into a rocks glass containing a single large block of ice. Top up with splash of a peated Scotch. Garnish with twist of lemon peel.

Blood & Sand 

Finally, I would like to share the fascinating history of one of my favourites cocktails, ‘Blood & Sand’, named after the 1922 film based on a Spanish novel about struggle, luck, persistence, labour, love, betrayal and forgiveness. A film about life some might say!

Two remakes of the film were released in 1941 and in 1989, with Rudolph Valentino starring in the first. Valentino was a real idol for many people at the time but someone who’s sadly become rather forgotten. In those days though, he was a hero and his participation in the film earned him unprecedented success; Mussolini was a fan too and even organised a plane to fly over the actor’s funeral, dropping red roses all over his grave – ‘blood and sand’, literally.

The cocktail is a masterpiece; so brilliant is the combination of its ingredients, which transform into a perfect combination of flavours and aromatic nuances, it’s as if they’ve never been added together in the first place. This beauty became so popular back in the day that The Savoy Cocktail Book included the recipe in their 1930 publication. 


 - Monkey Shoulder Blend Malt Scotch whisky (30 ml)
 - Fresh orange juice (30 ml)
 - Cherry Heering liquor (20 g)
 - Orange peel or cherry


Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake well for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish.

Speyside Punch 

Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky has such a harmonized and balanced taste, I don’t normally use it to make cocktails with - only a ray of sunshine or the soft flickering light of a candle can make it more beautiful than it already is. But my craving to explore new flavour combinations is insatiable, so I’ve not been able to deny myself the pleasure of adding some unusual twists to some classical recipes over the years.

During annual celebrations hosted by William Grant & Sons, a punch made using my own recipe is traditionally prepared. And, without false modesty, I note it stirs quite a bit of interest with the guests - it's really delicious.

So, here’s the recipe for you to enjoy too!


 - One portion of Glenfiddich 12 YO (40 ml)
 - Organic extract of white elderflowers (15 ml)
 - Sliced green apple and fresh cucumber (30 g)
 - Sparkling (non mineral) water (50 ml)


Punches are usually prepared in several portions so a bowl or a pitcher is perfectly suitable for a serving. Enjoy it both straight and mixed in a cocktail, but do not forget to do it responsibly.

Do you have a secret cocktail recipe? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to connect with me on Instagram or tweet your suggestions.  

Denis Pankratov
Glenfiddich Ambassador Russia