There are lots of things that were not made to stand the test of time. Well, not originally, anyway. I often cringe when I look back at things I loved in the past, especially entertainment. A few days ago, I was explaining the allure of Knight Rider to the K.I.D.D. Honestly, I was trying to explain the whole vehicle as hero thing, embodied in that show, Airwolf, Battle of the Planets and even the Dukes of Hazzard. How we would sit there and watch, rapt, as we waited for the next appearance of the vehicle on screen, doing heroic stuff, often using the same clips shown over and over, repackaged each week as if they were new. I checked the current exchange rates and found that pictures are still worth 1,000 words each and that depending on the provenance, moving pictures could be incalculably more valuable in conveying messages to young, impressionable minds. After checking my account, I fired up some Knight Rider for the boy and cringed as 48 year old me was embarrassed for how much 10 year old me loved that show. To be fair, I wasn’t listening to the dialogue or trying to follow the one plot they repainted and passed off as new each week, I was just waiting for the car and the action. As bad as the show was, there were some moments of brilliance, and that Trans Am disguised as the Knight Industries Two Thousand, still rocks. So, in the spirit of the things that survived the test of time to outlast their inspiration, please join me as we stand and make, the Rob Roy.
This blended scotch riff on the classic Manhattan was created at the New York Waldorf-Astoria in 1894 to celebrate the opening of Rob Roy, an operetta on Broadway that season. Lots of sources are quick to point out that this drink was not named for the Scottish outlaw turned folk hero, Robert Roy MacGregor, but for the play celebrating his life. Weird flex, but whatever. It is surprising just how many cocktails of this period that were created for opening parties or special events have survived in the cocktail lexicon. Just imagine jumping forward 100 years to find the “Wanda’s Vision” and the “Netflix and Chiller” on the classic cocktails menu alongside the Old-Fashioned and the Daiquiri. Still, it is what it is and this drink was considered instrumental in introducing the American public to blended scotch in cocktails. The original recipe as it appears in the 1935 Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, calls for orange bitters, but the lore of the time says it was actually made with Abbott’s Bitters out of Baltimore, which ceased operations in the 1950’s. Although they are no longer available, these bitters were said to have a heavy tonka bean base, so I am going to swap some in to try to get closer to the original.
Grab your mixing pitcher and pop in 1 1/2 ounces of blended scotch, I chose Dewar’s 12 Year; 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and 2 drops of bitters. You have a couple of options here. You can go with the orange bitters from the “official” recipe they put in the book, or put one stab of Angostura and one stab of orange bitters, as many recipes call for. Bob’s Bitter’s makes an emulation of the original Abbott’s formula, that sounds lovely, but it is made without tonka beans, unlike the original. You could also try some tonka bean bitters, however, it is not legal to use tonka beans as an ingredient in the United States. So you will have to go elsewhere to craft this drink, if you choose to emulate the guys tasked with making up yet another “signature drink” for yet another new musical that is hosting it’s opening party in Salon B. For my version this evening, I am using Droplets Tonka Bean Bitters acquired in Barcelona and imported using a time-honored technique known as smuggling. Whatever bitters option you choose, add some ice and give it a good stir to the beat of “This is the Moment” from another, excellent but largely forgotten musical, Jekyll & Hyde. To be fair, it survived for three years, if you can consider those last few months with David Hasselhoff, chewing up the remaining scenery, surviving. The videos are out there, don’t say I did not warn you. After 30-45 seconds strain into a chilled coupe, express an orange peel over the drink and garnish with a Luxardo cherry on a pick with some exquisitely folded orange peel.
That’s booze forward, just like the standard manhattan. I prefer this one, but I am a scotch guy. I like the softness the tonka beans give to the edge of the flavor, but I remade it and did the 1 and 1 thing with the orange and ango, and I preferred that. It occurs to me now that adding a single drop of the tonka would make that combo even better, if you happen to have contraband bitters lying about. It’s a nice drink, though. A bit boozy, a bit dry, but nice. Not surprising that I would like the scotch Manhattan that is also just a Bobby Burns without the Benedictine and absinthe.
I kind of enjoy the fact that this was a promotional drink that survived its inspiration, especially considering that the show it promoted lasted less than a year. I’d say that no one would remember the 1894 operetta at all, if not for this drink. It would be like the “Cop on the Rocks” cocktail sticking around from the big “Cop Rock” premiere party, which I believe was held at Four Seasons Landscaping. I kind of love that idea, that this drink was not created by master mixologists looking to expand the horizons of the cocktail world, it was just flung together for a promotion party. It’s like the head bartender looked at the schedule and went, “Well, it’s a party for a Scottish play” and being met with odd looks from the rest of the catering staff, “no, not that Scottish play, a musical based on the life of Rob Roy Macgregor. He was from Scotland, right? So we’re just gonna do a Manhattan with Scotch and serve some wee bridies, are we good?” And thus a classic was born, allegedly. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.