Classic Whisky Cocktails That Have Stood The Test of Time
For centuries, whisky has a been a well-loved spirit, synonymous with refinement yet also laid back in its own cool way. It’s not as casual as beer, not as celebratory as champagne, and not quite as aristocratic as fine wine, but it’s probably the most essential drink in your bar cart. That’s because, apart from having a rich and storied past, whisky is an especially versatile drink that can be enjoyed in a lot of different ways. For one, it goes well with steak.
Take, for example, Johnnie Walker. It's an industry stalwart with a heritage that dates so far back that the brand has recently launched a collection that pays homage to different eras of the 20th century. This is the sort of whisky that you can sip neat or on the rocks—the sort that mixes well into any one of the dozens of whisky cocktails that have emerged over the years.
Some whisky cocktails have even become bona fide classics—formulas that, despite having been mixed and remixed over and over again, have stood the test of time. Here are a few such whisky cocktails, each one an essential recipe to keep in mind. Try these during your next steak dinner:
As with every cocktail here, the Old Fashioned has a murky origin story. One narrative sees it being invented by the Pedennis Club, a social club in Louisville, Kentucky. In the early 1900s, the drink would be mentioned repeatedly in publications, always referred to as “old fashioned,” supposedly in reference to an old-fashioned way of making drinks. Regardless of its origin, though, the Old Fashioned is most commonly associated with the '60s, in part because Don Draper looked so cool sipping it in Mad Men. The recipe hasn’t changed much over the years, but with the right whisky, it’s never not good. Because it's sweet, the Old Fashioned is nice and smooth, and because there aren't too many flavors vying for attention, it's still a strong cocktail that puts the whisky front and center.
60mL Johnnie Walker Double Black
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube
- Place the sugar cube in a whisky glass.
- Moisten the cube with Angostura bitters and a splash of soda water.
- Crush the cube, then line the inside of the glass with it.
- Add ice.
- Pour in the whisky.
- Garnish with an orange twist.
The Whisky Sour belongs to a family of cocktails called “sours,” which, by many accounts, were popular with British Royal Navy seamen in the 18th century. These seamen supposedly made sours with rum and limes to keep scurvy at bay. Fast forward a couple of decades later and the sour was made with American whisky. For a long time in the '70s and '80s, sours were made with powdered mixes, until the '90s rolled around, when they were made fresh again. These days, it’s still a staple drink that, when made right, has a nice sharp taste with a slight fruity punch.
60mL Johnnie Walker Red Label
20mL lemon juice (or calamansi, if you feel like localizing it)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 egg white
- Place all the ingredients into a shaker with cracked ice. Shake vigorously.
- Strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a lemon wedge.
The Manhattan traces its origins back to the Manhattan Club, a New York City social club formed over 100 years ago and dissolved in the '70s. The story goes that this cocktail was made sometime at turn of the century, for one particular party thrown by Winston Churchill’s mother—although other accounts dispute this, saying Lady Randolph Churchill was in England at the time of this supposed party. In any case, the Manhattan was served by the Manhattan Club and so was closely associated with cocktails of the 1970s. Still, it remains a popular drink today—rich, strong, and sweet in taste.
60mL Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- In a shaker or can, stir all ingredients well with cracked ice.
- Strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a cherry.
Highballs can be made with any type of liquor, but it’s traditionally a whisky-based drink. This cocktail also dates its origins in the late 1800s, when it was supposedly invented by New York bartender Patrick Duffy. But seeing as this is, essentially, just scotch and soda, it’s hard to say for sure. Regardless, the highball has had something of a resurgence lately, and is in its own way, a modern whisky cocktail, appropriate for this era. It's also the ideal choice if you're looking to sip on something refreshing.
40mL Johnnie Walker Black Label
80mL Lemon lime soda
- Place three ice cubes in a tall, narrow-mouth glass.
- Pour in the whisky, then the soda.
- Garnish with a slice of lime.
Each of these whisky cocktails is timeless—they’re all at least 100 years old, but we still drink them today, and bars continue to put their own spin on them.
If you’d like to try making any of these timeless cocktails at home, consider using a timeless label of whisky like Johnnie Walker, which celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2020. If that’s not enough to establish its timelessness, consider the Vintage Design Pack—a limited edition release of Johnnie Walker bottles, including different variants that pay homage to different eras in the brand’s history. Johnnie Walker Red Label, for instance, references the 1920s, while Black, Double Black, and Gold Reserve represent the '70s, '90s, and 2010s.
For more information on Johnnie Walker and the Johnnie Walker Vintage Design Pack, visit the brand’s official Facebook page.
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