Behind the Bar: Highlands’ Brian McGrory on Why Scotch Isn’t So Scary (Hint: A New Cocktail Menu Debuting This Weekend Has Something to Do With It)


It’s ok, you can admit it: Scotch can be scary. Luckily, Brian McGrory of the recently opened Highlands in the West Village has some practical tips for easing you into the malted spirit. And, if you haven’t met the charming Scotsman or been to his cozy establishment, be assured that there are worse ways to have your Scotch cherry popped.

Why is Scotch so unapproachable for some people?

One of the many things people think of it is it’s just for serious drinkers. But there’s a Scotch or malt out there for everyone. The problem is when people who don’t know much about it get given a big, smoky one. It’s like starting smoking by being given a cigar. It’s baffling for the palate.

So, how do you get someone started on Scotch?

I would start with a fruit-driven whiskey, something with spice and vanilla, and dried fruit. Or citrus. Some of these simple Scotches are great for mixing into cocktails, as well, like a Whiskey Sour or Blood and Sand. You’re more likely to turn people on to Scotch and malt by introducing them to one of these cocktails. Scotch makes the best cocktails because it has so many flavors. It’s so complex.

What are some specific examples of good starter Scotches?

Anything with a sherry cask finish. Compass Box Asyla (blended) is good, I like Glenrothes Speyside (single malt), and I love Glenmorangie Old Maltman’s Special Reserve (single malt), and the Highland Park 12 Year.

So, what are some tips for drinking Scotch?

A lot of people don’t like to drink spirits straight. So, cocktails are a good way to start. We’re debuting our new cocktail list this weekend. [If you are drinking straight], go with one ice cube, and a dash of water. Water makes all the flavors come alive.

Are there any foods that pair with Scotch?

Generally, I’m not really a fan of pairing liquor with food because it’s so strong. But some people are saying yes, you can. I suppose our foie gras terrine with whiskey chutney would go well with it. With Scotch, it would have to be something with completely clashing flavors or something with similar flavor characteristics.

And, do you cook with it?

Absolutely. It’s one of the best spirits to cook with. It makes great chutneys, sauces, and dessert.

You’ve been open about a month. Are you getting many Scots?

Sure, we get a lot of Scots.

What’s the wildest thing that’s happened since you’ve been open?

Just how busy we’ve been. It’s been overwhelming.

You know what else is overwhelming? How delicious McGrory’s take on a Blood and Sand cocktail is. Here’s the recipe:

Blood and Sand

2 oz Highland Park 12 Year
1 oz Cherry Heering
1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
dash freshly squeezed lemon juice
dash bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass or shaker over ice. Stir well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange zest and a brandied cherry.