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How to Make Atholl Brose: Is This the Perfect Drink or Dessert?

Updated on June 18, 2013
Assembling the ingredients and container to make Atholl Brose.
Assembling the ingredients and container to make Atholl Brose. | Source

An Ideal Drink for Burns Night

'John Stewart' is a famous name on both side of the Atlantic, but while US readers may immediately think of the presenter of The Daily Show, in the UK the name has more of a historical association. For Scots who love food and drink, John Stewart is famous as the inventor of one of our great delicacies, Atholl Brose. If you plan a Scottish celebration, such as a St Andrew's or Burns' Night Dinner, have a go at this easy recipe. You'll use Whisky, oatmeal and honey to create a delicious concoction which can be served as a drink, or, with small changes, as a dessert.

The Legend Behind Atholl Brose

The area known as Atholl in Scotland has a long history as a virtually independent region within Scotland. The first Earls were virtually Kings, second only to the High King himself, but the title wasn’t a lucky one and families died out, or the title was taken away for one or other misdeed. In 1457, John Stewart, half brother of King James II was given the title. In 1475 John was responsible for the capture of John MacDonald, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, who had made a treaty with the English and agreed to help them overthrow the Scottish King. Atholl’s method was unique.

He found the well where the Earl of Ross habitually drank, and filled with a mixture of brose, honey and whisky. The Earl couldn’t get enough of the mixture and was unable to put up much of a fight, so the Earl of Atholl managed to capture him. Or so the legend says!

A Recipe for Atholl Brose

For basic Atholl Brose, you will need

  • 3 heaped tablespoons of oatmeal
  • 2 tablespoons of heather honey
  • 1pt water
  • whisky - to make the total up to 1quart.

Mix the oatmeal and water and then let the mixture stand for a minimum of 30 minutes or better still, overnight. Strain the result, keeping the oaty water and discarding the oatmeal. The easy way to do this is to squeeze it through muslin, but if you don’t have any handy, just put the oatmeal through a sieve, but press hard and leave it draining, you want every drop of the oaty water.

Now mix the liquid with honey. If your honey isn't runny enough, warm the liquid until the honey melts into it.

Add whisky to the mixture. How much? Well, that's really up to you, but the recipe I have, an old one, says you should add whisky until in total you have 1 quart. Make sure to put the result in a jug with a lid or a bottle with a stopper as the oatmeal tends to separate out, so you need to shake the drink up before you pour. The resulting beverage will keep for some time.

For special occasions, mix the oatmeal with a mixture of whisky and water, then add the honey and top the whole thing up with cream. Sadly, this doesn’t ‘keep’ nearly so well, so you’ll just have to drink it while it’s fresh!

Atholl Brose as a Dessert.

Atholl Brose is similar to another Scottish delicacy known as Cranachan. Cranachan mixes whipped cream with toasted oatmeal, sugar and fruit for a nutty, uniquely Scottish flavour, However you can, instead, mix the whipped cream with Atholl Brose and top the result with toasted oatmeal. The result is truly delicious.

Atholl Brose as a Cocktail

This is a creamy cocktail, not unlike a Brandy Alexander, but being Scottish of course it uses Whisky. Advance preparation is required in order to have the oatmeal water on hand.

  • 2 spoon Runny honey (heather)
  • 2 shot Dewar's 12 Year Old Scotch whisky
  • 1½ shot Oatmeal water
  • ¼ shot Drambuie
  • ¼ shot Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira
  • ½ shot Double (heavy) cream


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