A Whiskey-and-Jam Session

Fruit preserves star in a surprising Scotch cocktail

Photo: Johnny Autry

During the Long Sequester, so many people became makers of jams that the nation suffered a shortage of mason jars and lids; one jar vendor in 2020 reported a 600 percent spike in sales. We imagine basements from Arlington to Atlanta to Austin bristling with battalions of raspberry jam and orange marmalade stockpiled in quantities not seen since the height of the Cold War.

What to do with it all? Well, may we suggest that you make a drink?

Jams consist mainly of fruit and sweetener, which is not too far removed from classic cocktail ingredients. Lime and sugar compose a daiquiri, for instance, with a little rum added for diversion. And one might profitably add a tablespoon of raspberry or blackberry jam to many shaken drinks, then pour them through a fine strainer to catch any pulp or seeds before sipping. When using jam in this way, homemade sings, but store-bought is fine—although you should scrutinize the label. Don’t use a fruit spread that’s masquerading as a jam, or something loaded with extra ingredients that fails to enhance the flavor of the cocktail. The Bonne Maman line with the checkerboard lids works especially well.

Naturally, jam brings to mind breakfast, and breakfast brings to mind this splendid English breakfast old-fashioned cocktail created by Tom Martinez, the head bartender at Café Riggs in Washington, D.C. Martinez starts with orange marmalade syrup, which essentially acts as a prestrained mixer, made by combining five ounces of orange marmalade with one ounce of water in a saucepan, then heating it gently until deliquesced into a syrup-like consistency. Strain out the peels and pith and bottle it, and it will keep for up to a month in the fridge. Then in goes a spot of tea in the form of Earl Grey bitters. The 18.21 Bitters brand offers a commendable version (available online). Or make it yourself. The bitters add a hint of summer florals. 

As for the Scotch, view this as a nod to the Scottish Hebridean practice of enjoying a dram before breakfast. (This was once called a skalk, which translates from Scottish Gaelic as “a blow to the head.”) It’s best to use a lighter-bodied blended whisky here, and to save your single malts for the snifter. Martinez is fond of Pig’s Nose, an affordable blended Scotch with both fortitude and backbone. 

Finally, just a hint of salt. “Salt makes all of the other flavors pop,” Martinez explains. “It’s been a secret weapon at cocktail bars for the past five or six years now.” This was the first drink Martinez created when he joined the bar at Riggs, and he says he took his inspiration from the high-ceilinged café and its elegant fare. “I wanted to make a drink that was evocative of a certain feeling—of high teas and marmalade.” 

Which brings to mind the assertion by the playwright George Bernard Shaw: “Whisky is liquid sunshine.” He wasn’t wrong.

photo: Johnny Autry


  • English Breakfast Old-Fashioned (Yield: 1 cocktail)

    • 2 oz. blended Scotch (unpeated)

    • ¼ oz. orange marmalade syrup*

    • 2 dashes Earl Grey bitters**

    • 1 small pinch salt

    • Orange peel, for garnish


  1. Combine all ingredients except garnish in a mixing vessel. Add ice and stir for 20 seconds until chilled. Pour over a large cube in a rocks glass. Garnish with orange peel.

  2. *To make the syrup, heat 5 oz. orange marmalade and 1 oz. water gently in a saucepan until it reaches a syrup-like consistency. Strain and bottle.

  3. **To make the bitters, place 2 Earl Grey tea bags in 4 oz. vodka or other high-proof spirit and allow to infuse for at least 2 days and no more than 7. Squeeze liquid from bags and store the infusion in a dasher or dropper bottle.