Cocktail of the Week: Atholl Brose

Cocktail of the Week: Atholl Brose

If you thought we’d run out of traditional Scottish drinks based on whisky, oats and dairy to share with you, you thought wrong

News | 04 Feb 2022 | By Beatrix Swanson

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The Atholl Brose is a Scottish nectar consisting, traditionally, of oat-thickened, honey-sweetened whisky and cream. It is arguably one of the oldest cocktails in the world, but its origin is disputed. One big clue to its history is in the name: “Atholl”, a former Pictish kingdom, is a large area of the Scottish Highlands (“brose” is Scots for uncooked oatmeal porridge).

Various legends surround the genesis of the Atholl Brose. One tells of the Giant of Atholl, who terrorised the forested reaches of northern Scotland until he was slain by the enterprising hunter Douglas – who ‘drugged’ him with a vat of honeyed, carbed-up whisky. Another ascribes the drink’s invention to John of Islay, chief of Clan Donald and Lord of the Isles, who in 1475 is supposed to have defeated one of the king’s armies by replacing the water in their well with an intoxicating oat potion.

One thing all the legends seem to have in common is that they involve a truly biblical quantity of this drink being mixed. But there’s no need to completely sweep the storecupboard – our recipe give proportions of ingredients, allowing you to vary the amounts.

There are many, many Atholl Brose recipes out there. Today, we’re sharing one of three included in Charles H Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book (1939). Baker was an intrepid traveller who reported on the many exotic drinks and foods which he encountered, linen suit-clad, on his jaunts around the world. He calls this (rather un-exotic) cocktail “an old Scottish institution which, like many things Scottish, is founded on mighty good reason, & is guaranteed to profit its user.”

Baker, who insists that Atholl Brose be drunk cold while declaring that it tastes better hot, eschews the use of oats in his versions (which all list the same ingredients, just in slightly varied proportions). This makes for a simpler recipe, and will please those who don’t like ‘bits’. “Please don’t attempt to use any young Scotch whisky—use the best the shelf affords.”


Really old Liqueur Scotch whisky, 1 part
Clear strained honey, 1 part
Cream, 1 part

Mix well, warm slightly to make smooth. Then cool and sample, or heat and sample while still hot, to insure [sic] a mix to taste. Drink cold. Never boil cream or milk in a Brose. “Milk boked is milk spoiled,” runs the Scottish proverb.
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