Bobby Burns

File this one in the “Annoying Name, Excellent Drink” category.

When I encountered this cocktail in various bartending guides, I usually breezed right past it, put off by its back-slapping, overly familiar name, attached to the drink no doubt to serve as a flippant flag to the unwitting drinker that the Bobby Burns is a Scotch-containing concoction. (Why the hell they gotta do that? Scotch has the Rob Roy, the Glasgow, the Highland, the Thistle and the Bobby Burns, and Irish whiskey has the Emerald, the Blarney Stone, the Shamrock, the Tipperary and the Paddy Cocktail, among others–annoying trend, in my humble opinion). But once I got past the name, I discovered the Bobby Burns is a truly excellent cocktail.

Origins are hazy, but in his Joy of Mixology, Gary Regan says Old Waldorf Bar Days, by Albert Stevens Crockett, strongly suggests the drink originated in that venerable establishment. But I have my doubts–Crockett’s book was published in 1931, and features not a Bobby Burns but a Robert Burns, which has a similar base of Scotch and Italian vermouth (basically a Rob Roy), but then completes the drink with a dash each of absinthe and orange bitters. But just a year previous, Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book printed a recipe more familiar to contemporary guides, with the Scotch and Italian vermouth base, but finished with dashes of Benedictine. “One of the very best Whisky cocktails,” Craddock wrote, “a very fast mover on St. Andrew’s Day.”

Though Craddock’s recipe has changed over time–he called for equal parts whisky and vermouth, whereas recent recipes typically list around a 2:1 ratio–the Bobby Burns is still distinguished by its finishing touch: 2 dashes of Benedictine.

Well, usually.

In The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury lists two variations for the Bobby Burns, one with Benedictine, and the other–Embury’s preferred variation–with Drambuie. (Embury was also working with a recipe that called for a dash of angostura–but says an interesting variation may be obtained by substituting Peychaud’s for angostura, as Peychaud’s tends to marry better with Scotch.)

Having tried the cocktail both ways, I come down on Embury’s side–Drambuie makes a smoother drink, though the Benedictine version is no slouch. Whichever way you choose to try it–and you should try both, to see which you prefer–the Bobby Burns is worth a shot. Just summon up your nerve to get past the name, and go for it.

Bobby Burns

  • 2 ounces blended Scotch whisky
  • 1 ounce Italian vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters (or if you have Peychaud’s on hand, give that a spin)
  • 2 dashes Drambuie OR Benedictine

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass; twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink, and add the twist as garnish.

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3 Responses to Bobby Burns

  1. Great drink. I’ve only tried the drambuie version. I’m in PA, and the state stores don’t carry Benedictine, only B&B. So, I’ve adapted. I can’t speak to the Benedictine version, but the drambuie version is sublime. I’ve had many an “I don’t like scotch” drinker tell me this is one of their favorite drinks, when mixed at my home bar. one difference though – my recipe calls for equal parts scotch and sweet vermouth. The more I drink these, the more I think it is too sweet, so I may back off the sweet vermouth on mine and keep the 50-50 to the non-scotch drinkers. Also, due to PA state store restrictions, I’m limited to angostura. I look forward to finding some contraband bitters one of these days.

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