What is a Rob Roy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Scottish Robin Hood, also known as Robert Roy MacGregor or simply Rob Roy, was a 17th and 18th century folk hero whose brave, or reckless deeds, have been told in numerous fictional accounts, including the Daniel Defoe novel Highland Rogue, and in the more familiar Sir Walter Scott novel Rob Roy. Stories of MacGregor also led to operatic retellings, and it was during the opening of the Rob Roy operetta, written by Reginald De Koven, in New York in 1894 that the drink named after the Scottish Robin Hood was invented. Initially both the operetta and the drink were equally popular, but the cocktail has now long surpassed De Koven’s operetta in fame.

The Rob Roy cocktail is similar to the Manhattan, but uses Scotch whisky instead of rye whiskey.
The Rob Roy cocktail is similar to the Manhattan, but uses Scotch whisky instead of rye whiskey.

The Rob Roy cocktail according to bartending legend, was created at the Waldorf Hotel. However, the most popular recipe for it was printed in The Savoy Book, which wasn’t published until 1930. This book was published by The Savoy Hotel, and it does state that the drink was popular in Scotland, especially in celebration of the famous bandit.

As a cocktail, the Rob Roy is quite similar to the Manhattan. The basic and really only significant difference between the two cocktails is the type of whisky used. The Manhattan uses rye whiskey, but the Rob Roy evokes the Scottish hero by using Scotch whisky instead. Otherwise, the two recipes are quite similar, though whisky aficionados would be likely to point out the many differences in flavor between rye and Scotch whisky.

The basic recipe for the drink is the following:

    Three parts scotch to one part (or in some recipes one half part) vermouth Dash of bitters (in some recipes)
    Cherry for a garnish.

The drink may be served over ice, or shaken in ice and served straight up. There are some dissensions on the issue of what type of vermouth to use, since it can be either sweet or dry. Some mention another drink, the Perfect Rob Roy, which uses half dry and half sweet vermouth. Most recipes suggest use of sweet vermouth, but a few suggest only using dry vermouth. The sweeter version appears more common.

A nonalcoholic cocktail or mocktail that references the Rob Roy, though the reference is almost lost in translation is the Roy Rogers. This is a combination of cola and grenadine, and is usually garnished with a cherry. It’s actually rare to hear the drink referred to as Roy Rogers in recent days. Instead the drink may be called a grenadini, and it has also been called a Shirley Temple Black. Giving the mocktail the name of Roy Rogers, the famous cowboy may have been a ploy to get young boys to order the drink, if they would have been loath to order a Shirley Temple, made of lemon lime soda and grenadine because the name sounded too “girly.”

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


As a fan of bourbon, rye and Scotch, I'm torn on the usefulness of the Manhattan/Rob Roy. You need a good base whisky to make a good Manhattan or Rob Roy, but if you have a good whisky to begin with, why are you mucking about with bitters and vermouth? Just drink the whisky itself!

That said, I've had some very good Manhattans in my day, with and without a tiny shake of bitters. The less vermouth, the better, in any case. I rarely even consider making Rob Roys because good Scotch is so enticing (and relatively rare here in America) all on its own. I might feel differently if I lived in Scotland.

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