Scotch Whiskey - All Bartenders Need to Know

Scotch Whiskey – All Bartenders Need to Know

You’re brand new to the bartending scene trying to land that first bartending gig. At one point in the interview the bar manager asked you what the difference is between a single-malt Scotch Whiskey and a blended Scotch Whiskey. Oops. You have no idea. That’s gonna hurt the interview outcome.

First of all – why would the interviewer even ask you that question? Obviously, he’s testing your knowledge of liquor, but there’s an underlying reason here: he also wants to make sure that you understand the importance of suggestive selling. For more on that topic, check out my article on How Bartenders Master the Art of Suggestive Selling.

Have no fear. The difference in the two Scotch’s above is fairly basic, and it’s not likely that a bartender needs to know the finer points of a top-notch Scotch whiskey to land the job. However, it’s worth the time to get the basics down – for the interview as well as appearing knowledgeable to your future customers.

Make no mistake – bartenders with no experience must know the basics of liquor, beer, and wine. It’s not enough to know the basic and classic cocktail recipes to land that first job. Important, yes, but you better have a pretty good idea of what you’re putting into a customers drink.

Let’s go through a few of the basics of Scotch Whiskey. Things you should probably know before the interview, and some additional facts that may help in the process. Please – don’t stress out on this. Get the basics down and you’ll do just fine in the interview.

What is Scotch Whiskey?

Basically, it’s a malt or grain whiskey made in Scotland. They have some strict laws over there on how it can be made, but that’s for another day. Besides, you probably won’t get asked this question in a job interview.

A Few Scotch Facts:

  • Scotch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years
  • Originally made from malted barley
  • Basically, 5 categories of Scotch: Single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended. Single malt and single grain being the most common
  • Must be bottled in Scotland

Scotch whiskey has an interesting history, and goes way beyond the scope of this article. For a really neat lesson on the origins of Scotch, check out this article about the Story of Scotch. A lot of things in there that I had no idea about, and a very interesting read.

Drinks Made with Scotch Whiskey

scotch whiskey in a snifter glass

Besides your basic Scotch cocktails, i. e., Scotch and water, Scotch and soda, Scotch on the rocks, Scotch neat, etc., there’s a number of basic Scotch cocktails and classics that you should probably know.

For very brand new bartenders, the basics will do you just fine. Don’t waste your time learning every Scotch recipe out there. For a great list of all classic and basic cocktail recipes and liquor brands you should know, please visit our Liquor – Beer – Wine page.

This is not really a drink recipe lesson – just some good basic information to get you started. As always, drinks that are popular in one area of the country may never be called in another part.

You’ll find that most Scotch drinkers prefer it neat, on the rocks, or with soda or water. Some may even ask for it in a snifter. It’s rare to get a call for ‘Scotch and Coke,’ but don’t be surprised when you get an unusual request.

Basic Scotch Recipes

Rusty Nail. A classic cocktail. Scotch paired with Drambuie, which is a Scotch based liquor. Very popular in some bars, and a cocktail that you should definitely know.

One of the more expensive classic cocktails out there – especially if you’re pouring a top shelf single-malt. Usually 3 parts Scotch to 1 part Drambuie, but, as always, the bar manager will instruct you on the exact recipe they prefer.

Rob Roy. This is the Scotch Manhattan. Scotch paired with vermouth. As with Manhattans and Gibsons, they can be sweet (sweet vermouth), dry (dry vermouth), or ‘perfect’ (both sweet and dry vermouth and probably garnished with a lemon twist instead of a cherry). Rob Roy’s are much like martini’s in that they usually get 2 ounces of liquor.

Scotch Mist. To most of us, it’s simply a Scotch on the rocks with a lemon twist. 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of liquor – depends on your boss. Some people prefer crushed ice. Some may want it blended with some lemon juice or sweet ‘n sour turning it into a ‘sour.’ Give them what they want.

Scotch Sour. Like all sours, it’s just Scotch and sweet ‘n sour. Simple. Blend it up with a little ice. Sours can get a lemon twist. Or a cherry. Usually 1 1/2 ounces of liquor. From the ‘sour’ family, there’s really no difference, other than the type of whiskey. Many people put margarita’s and sidecars in the ‘sours’ class. I don’t.

Bar customers may surprise you. There are many other types of Scotch drinks that you could get a call for – but rarely. Knowing the above four cocktails, along with the basics, will supply you with over 95% of the common drinks made with this liquor.

Popular Brands of Scotch

Every bar will most likely have a cheaper Scotch Whiskey that’s used in the well. Or, they may use a “Call” Scotch like Cutty Sark or J & B as their well liquor. All bars are different, so don’t worry about this too much. Don’t waste your time trying to memorize every brand of Scotch out there. You can find a list of the most popular Scotch Whiskey brands here.

Here are some of  the more popular call and premium/top-shelf brands. Most bars carry these brands, and you’re probably going to get a list of the specifics when you get hired. Remember that many bars will spend a few days training you – whether you have experience or not.

Call Scotch Whiskey

  • J & B
  • Cutty Sark
  • Dewars White Label
  • Johnnie Walker Red
  • Black and White

Premium/Top Shelf

  • Chivas Regal
  • Johnny Walker Black
  • Ballantine’s
  • Glenlivet
  • Glenfiddich
  • Pinch

It’s important to remember that every bar does things a bit differently. For example, the brands listed above could very easily be divided into three or four categories instead of two. Or even five.

As with any brand of liquor, there may be those unusual, very expensive brands that have their own unique price per drink. For any bartender just starting their new job, a price list will be provided. And, the POS system will have all prices at your fingertips.

Bar Pricing Structure of Scotch Whiskey

All brands of Scotch Whiskey that the bar carries will be priced according to their wholesale cost. Most of the time. A good rule of thumb is a $1-3 price increase as you go up the line. Of course, those very premium brands will have their own price.

Another pricing structure in many bars is to pour more, and charge more, for “on the rocks.” This also will be reflected in the overall pricing structure. This is something that bartenders need to be very clear about.

Unfortunately, many bar owners seem to miss the mark on their pricing structure. Chain restaurants and hotels do a pretty good job, but many bar owners just want 2 or 3 levels of pricing. Big mistake, but it’s not up to you to question. Charge what you’ve been instructed to charge and go with the flow.

Who Orders Scotch Whiskey in a Bar?

Good question, and you’ might be surprised. As a bartender, it’s kind of fun to guess what a new customer will order. Yes, Scotch drinkers are usually someone a bit older. They say that Scotch Whiskey is an acquired taste – but isn’t all liquor?

Scotch drinkers are usually not the ‘shot and a beer’ type of customer. Most will ask for it on the rocks or with water. Or neat. Some will ask for two or three ice cubes. To each his own. The more experience you have behind the bar – the less surprised you’ll be.

Final Thoughts on Scotch Whiskey

Scotch is a very popular drink in bars these days. Maybe not as much as vodka, but it gets it’s share of drinkers. I’ve noticed that there are more daytime and early evening Scotch drinkers than there are nighttime drinkers.

The type of bar also has a direct relationship to the type of drinkers frequenting the place. It’s not written in stone, but there are general similarities. New age, fancy nightclubs probably won’t sell too much Scotch. It’s all about the vodka or whiskey in those establishments..

For aspiring bartenders, don’t spend too much time learning everything you can about a certain type or brand of liquor. Your time is better spent hitting the pavement and getting interviews. Gaining in-depth knowledge about every type of liquor is for a later time.

Related Scotch Whiskey Topics

What about Vodka? Isn’t that the most popular type of liquor? Yes, Vodka is very popular. In fact, when someone orders a martini – they’re probably assuming that you’re going to pour vodka instead of gin. Gin was used in the ‘old days’ martini recipes. You can learn more about vodka in a recent post that I wrote.

If a customer orders a Scotch on the rocks, should I suggest a single-malt? Great question – and now you’re thinking like a seasoned pro! The answer is an emphatic YES! All restaurants and bars are probably going to push this “suggestive selling” technique.

It’s just good business and nothing wrong with this at all. Here’s a great way to answer this customer’s request: “Would you like Cutty – or perhaps a single malt?” Boom.

Similar Posts