Smoky Grove – a Peated Scotch Whisky Cocktail with a Flamed Orange Twist

The Smoky Grove is a modern whisky drink that is a variation on a Perfect Rob Roy (equal parts sweet and dry vermouth), which is itself a variation on a Manhattan. The biggest difference is its use of extremely peaty Islay Scotch. But don’t let the smokiness fool you, it’s a really well balanced cocktail.

It was originally created in 2007 by Jonathan Pogash (aka The Cocktail Guru) at the Bookmarks bar in the Library Hotel when writer, Jonathan Forrester, asked Pogash to make him a “bartender’s choice.” The drink took it’s lead from the Perfect Rob Roy ( and while I enjoy a Scotch with peaty notes in my Rob Roy, the Smokey Grove is a different beast entirely.

The smokiness is meant to be strong, but gentle on the finish. The vermouths round off the edges of the Islay whisky. The bitters give it just enough spice and the caramelized oils of the flamed orange twist give it an unexpected smoothness.

Pogash’s original recipe called for 2 dashes of each of the bitters and specifically for Laphroaig as the base spirit. This inspired Forrester to write glowingly about it, which Jim Meehan read, tried the drink and agreed. Meehan would make it as an after hours staff drink for his crew at PTD and included it in his book. Meehan made a couple tweaks, he reduced the bitters to one dash each, he used his house orange bitters and swapped out the Laphroaig for the Peat Monster from Compass Box.

The Peat Monster is a vatted malt, made up of mostly Laphroaig, but also Ledaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore and just a touch of Highland malts from Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine. So, it’s got a lot going on. Overall its character is maltier than Laphroaig on its own, and in this drink it makes for a more rounded drink, which is most likely why Meehan made the changes he did. But Forrester, having had both, still swears by the original. I prefer Meehan’s recipe, but I’ve included both recipes below. Make it both ways, see which one you prefer.

These bottles are the specific bottles Meehan used. The only exception is that he used a house blend of orange bitters. His house blend was equal parts Regans Orange Bitters and Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. I just used Regans, but if you’re up to the challenge, feel free to combine a the bitters beforehand and use a dash of that instead. When you do, somewhere in the world Jim Meehan’s heart will warm a little at that grand gesture of accuracy and attention to detail.

Speaking of extra effort, the flamed orange twist is worth doing. The point of a twist is to help brighten up a drink and give it a citrus essence. In this case, raw dogging the orange twist can overpower the flavors ever so slightly. By caramelizing the orange oils, it mellows the intense tang of the citrus and leaves a smoother, smoked orange flavor that really tops off the cocktail.

This drink is a great descendant of the Manhattan. As a variant, it’s simple. It brings together some of the best qualities of this 21st century cocktail renaissance, but it doesn’t rely on esoteric ingredients or specialty tinctures or exotic fruits (although, in the words of Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”). Any decent bar should be able to whip one of these up for you and it’s pretty straight-forward to make at home. But most importantly of all, it’s delicious. Cheers!

Recipe (Jim Meehan):
2 oz The Peat Monster Scotch
0.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
0.5 oz Dry Vermouth
1 dash Orange Bitters (a 1:1 blend of Regan’s and Fee Brothers)
1 dash Aromatic Bitters
flamed Orange Twist

Stir with ice. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a flamed orange twist.

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