This article is part of a series, Art of the Riff, sponsored by Johnnie Walker. Discover more about Scotch cocktails here!

It’s exciting to start going out again — and frankly, even a bit overwhelming. Give yourself a break: After more than a year off, most of us probably need a refresher course on how to bar, from where to go, to how (and what) we should order.

If the excitement of finally going out again makes it hard to think of anything beyond the most obvious drink choices, here’s an easy way to order something outside the box: Try a riff on a classic. Any great whiskey cocktail provides fertile ground for the right Scotch, which when added may just transform your drink completely.

Instead of a standard bourbon or rye serve, consider ordering a seasonal variation made with a high-grade blended Scotch like Johnnie Walker Black Label. The dynamic, multi-faceted liquid not only boasts a range of interesting flavors just waiting to be activated by the right ingredients, but also offers both greater complexity and a more refined balance in drinks that are commonly made with American whiskey. Even more than just making for interesting orders, these Scotch-based variations are almost always better suited to summer drinking, thanks to the lighter body and more ethereal aromas of a luxury blended Scotch.

Of course, Scotland’s favorite spirit is no stranger to classic mixology. Long-revered Scotch cocktails include the Blood and Sand, the Rusty Nail, and, of course, the Rob Roy, a favorite on two continents and sometimes known as “a Scotch Manhattan”. Any of these classic cocktails will serve as the perfect canvas for Johnnie Walker Black Label’s diverse flavors, but many other usual suspects will also transform once made with the storied Scotch.

To fully experiment with every peppery, smoky, spicy, and candied note in the famous spirit, read on to see how Johnnie Walker Black Label can offer the perfect twist on all your favorite recipes.

Scotch Old Fashioned

A traditional Old Fashioned can be a much-needed comfort in cool weather, when the heft of a classic bourbon or rye helps ward off the chill. But when the mercury rises, that same heaviness might not be completely appreciated. Instead, consider the Scotch Old Fashioned, a lighter, more summery version of what many consider the cocktail archetype.

This jazz-like variation on a well-known standard can also work wonders with several related cocktail recipes. There’s a word for someone who orders a Scotch Sazerac, and that word is baller. Or trace the Old Fashioned’s descent through cocktail history by ordering a Scotch-based Improved Whisky Cocktail, a drink first referenced by mixology forefather Jerry Thomas in 1876, which “improves” the beloved Old Fashioned cocktail with a trace of absinthe and a dash of rich Maraschino liqueur.

Ingredients

● 1 1/2 ounces Johnnie Walker Black
● 2 dashes bitters
● 1 bar spoon simple syrup
● Orange peel, for garnish

Directions

1. Combine Johnnie Walker Black, bitters, and simple syrup in a mixing glass and stir with ice.
2. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over a large ice cube.
3. Garnish with orange peel.

The Scotch Boulevardier

Call this one a riff on a riff, as the Boulevardier arguably counts as a bourbon-based variation on the gin-based Negroni. If you use a great blended Scotch instead of bourbon in your Boulevardier, you’ll find the flavors are more balanced, more graceful, and even more appropriate for warm-weather drinking.

A second variation worth trying would be a Scotch Man O’ War, which forgoes the Boulevardier’s Italian liqueur, using triple sec to harmonize the flavors in its place. Impress your cocktail-nerd friends by noting that Negronis and Boulevardiers are among the few cocktails that use equally measured ingredients, a quality they share with the Blood and Sand.

Ingredients

● 1 1/2 ounces Johnnie Walker Black
● 1 ounce Italian liqueur
● 1 ounce sweet vermouth
● Citrus peel, for garnish

Directions

1. Add Johnnie Walker Black, Italian liqueur, and sweet vermouth into an ice-filled mixing glass.
2. Stir briskly until well chilled.
3. Strain into an Old Fashioned or other serving glass filled with fresh ice.
4. Garnish with citrus twist.

Scotch Sidecar

Traditionally made with Cognac, a Sidecar is a bright, spirit-lifting elixir with plenty of rich citrus flavors, thanks to its fresh lemon juice and blast of triple sec (or another orange liqueur). Descended from the primeval Brandy Crusta, the classic version first appeared around the end of World War I and was probably invented at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. With the Scotch variation, expect the citrus notes to get amplified, which can play well with the spirit’s other aromas and flavors.
If you feel like making a Scotch riff on the Brown Derby, the related cocktail traditionally made with bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup, fair warning: one already exists. Known as the De Rigueur, the “whisky”-based recipe first mentioned in a cocktail book from 1927 predates the bourbon-based Brown Derby by several years, and remains an under-the-radar classic today.

Ingredients

● 1 1/2 ounce Johnnie Walker Black
● 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
● 3/4 ounce triple sec
● Lemon peel, for garnish

Directions

1. Combine Johnnie Walker Black, lemon juice, and triple sec in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
2. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
3. Garnish with lemon peel and serve.

Scotch Smash

Scotch is known for its delicate aromas, which pair devastatingly well with fragrant citrus, fresh berries — and, most especially, with fresh mint. Bourbon whiskey is justifiably celebrated for its role in two traditional minty drinks, the Mint Julep and the related Whiskey Smash, a legendary mixed drink first mentioned in the 1887 edition of “The Bartenders Guide.”

While the Whiskey Smash is often made with well spirits, asking for a variation made with an elegant blended Scotch will level this drink up, bringing out an array of aromatics as bright and airy as a cool, summer breeze.

Ingredients

● 1 1/2 ounces Johnnie Walker Black
● 1/2 lemon, cut into four pieces
● 8 spearmint leaves
● 3 bar spoons simple syrup
● Mint sprig, for garnish

Directions

1. Muddle the lemon piece in a cocktail shaker.
2. Add Johnnie Walker Black, simple syrup, mint leaves, and ice to cocktail shaker.
3. Shake until chilled.
4. Strain into an Old Fashioned or other serving glass over fresh ice.
5. Garnish with a mint sprig.

This article is sponsored by Johnnie Walker.