From the Archives: The Thistle

Repeal Day came and went this year, with nary a comment from me. What can I say? Bad blogger. Today, though, I want to revisit a cocktail I first explored four years ago, for Repeal Day 2006: the Thistle. The Thistle is a simple cocktail; my version came from Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them, and it calls for 2 parts Scotch, 1 part Italian vermouth, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Wait a minute. Scotch, sweet vermouth, and bitters? Yes, you’re going to say the same thing someone else said in 2006, and that Erik “The Obscurist” Ellestad noted earlier this year: that’s a Rob Roy. Okay, it’s a Rob Roy. It’s a Thistle. It’s a York. You can call it a peppermint patty for all I care, it’s a fine damn drink.

I don’t know how to admit this to you, dear readers, but I actually prefer a sweet Thistleroy to a sweet Manhattan. Even made with rye, a sweet Manhattan simply tastes too sweet to me. For it to be truly tasty, I have to make the perfect variation on it: 2 oz. rye, 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth, and 1/2 dry vermouth. Scotch, though (even a blended variety), brings enough smokey character to the cocktail to rise up and tame the sweet vermouth.

Four years ago, I used Dewars for the scotch, and Cinzano for the vermouth. This time, I went a different route, and came up with something my wife and I loved. First, I wanted to play with a single malt in this instead of a blend. I used Knockdhu Distillery’s An Cnoc 12, a well-balanced and relatively inexpensive Highlands whisky.

For the vermouth, I chose a product that wasn’t even available to me (or anyone in the United States) in 2006: the French Dolin Rouge. I’m really starting to shun the available-everywhere products like M&R or Cinzano, in favor of more bitter and herbal vermouths such as Dolin or Carpano Antica, the latter of which I have to schlep from Boston. I found that the Dolin’s bittersweet herbaceous qualities married well with the An Cnoc.

Finally, I rounded the drink out with Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters from the Bitter Truth. I remembered, too late, that I had drained the Angostura the previous evening. But it’s okay, because I like the Christmas-spiciness of the Jerry Thomas.

In all, the Yorkeroy is a great drink that deserves a regular spot in my drinks rotation, and it’s proven itself as open to experimentation as a horny college student. I’ll have another.

(If you’re joining me from Serious Eats, welcome aboard. Look around, kick the tires, poke the cats, and pour yourself a stiff one.)


3 thoughts on “From the Archives: The Thistle

  1. Michael:

    Enjoyed this post very much as I am also a fan of The Thistle. Had a quick question regarding your Manhattan aside. I have seen that recipe (2 oz rye, 1/2 sweet, 1/2 dry vermouths) referred to as a Perfect Manhattan — is this the same as the variation you described above?

    I would also be curious for your thoughts on two things:
    1) your take on the sanctity of single malt (i.e. never to be mixed, yet there is a growing trend of cocktails made with single malt)
    2) Other recipes with single malt as the base that you have experimented with and enjoy.

    With much appreciation,



    • Thanks for stopping by, Paul.

      It’s not clear in my post, but I actually do refer to the rye/sweet/dry recipe as “the perfect variation,” which I realize is an ambiguous way to word things. But yes, I was referring to the Perfect Manhattan.

      As for scotch and sanctity, I think there’s a little too much “sanctity” in the cocktail scene as it is. It’s one thing to take ingredients and recipes seriously, but it’s another to lose sight of the fact that it’s a drink. It’s meant to be enjoyed and help loosen you up a bit. I’ll admit, I take most of my single malts neat or with a large rock of ice, but I think it’s natural and reasonable to experiment.

      I’ve only made two other cocktails that I can recall that used single-malt as an ingredient. One is Gary Regan’s Debonair cocktail, a great marriage of scotch and ginger liqueur.

      The other is simpler: take a peaty scotch and swirl it around the inside of a cocktail glass. Drink the scotch, funnel it back into the bottle, or–egads!–throw it down the drain. Chuck the glass in the freezer while you prepare your favorite recipe for a Manhattan. Pour the cocktail into the glass. Marvel at how beautifully the scotch deepens the flavor and complexity of the cocktail.

      I don’t remember where I saw that second one, but it might have been from Paul Clarke.

      Thanks again,



  2. Might I suggest using a whisky called Balcones Baby Blue. It is a new Texas whiskey distilled in Baptist capital Waco, Texas (of all places). If from Kentucky, it would be a bourbon, as it is made from 100% corn. But, it is made from blue corn from a Hopi indian reservation. This makes it sound hopelessly snobby, but the blue corn is much less sweet and makes the whisky a perfect mix between bourbon and a smoky scotch, in my opinion. I’ve found it ideal for making a less sweet Manhattan without sacrificing my scotch or using a similarly priced blend, which can be a little too peaty or smoky for my taste in a Mahattan.


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