Scottish whisky liqueurs have been around longer than you might think, with “brose” – a mixture of whisky, honey, oatmeal and, if desired, cream – being produced for centuries.
Drambuie is the best-known modern iteration, a mainstay of gantries around the globe. A blend of whisky, heather honey, herbs and spices, its name is derived from the Gaelic phrase “an dram buidheach”, meaning “the drink that satisfies”. Legend has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie gave the recipe to Captain John MacKinnon of the clan MacKinnon in return for sanctuary on the Isle of Skye, where he fled after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
The recipe was then given in the late 19th century to James Ross, who ran a hotel on Skye, where he developed the recipe and began selling it to patrons in the 1870s, with the name being registered as a trademark in 1893. Ross’s widow was obliged to sell the recipe to make ends meet, and did so to another (unrelated) family named MacKinnon, which began producing the drink in its current form in Edinburgh in 1910. In 1916 Drambuie became the first liqueur to be allowed in the cellars of the House of Lords and was shipped to British soldiers stationed around the world. The liqueur has been produced at the Morrison Bowmore Distillers facility in Glasgow since 2010 and in 2014 the brand was sold to William Grant & Sons for a rumoured price of £100 million.
Also well-known is Glayva, made from a blend of whiskies, spices, tangerines, cinnamon, almonds and honey, now produced by Whyte & MacKay. Created in 1947 by wine and whisky merchant Ronald Morrison, a member of the Invergordon family of distillers, who was based at the port of Leith and as such had easy access to the exotic ingredients that gave his liqueur its distinctive, warming flavour, its name comes from the exclamation of his warehouseman upon tasting it that it was “gle mhath” – Gaelic for “very good”.
Named for the Gaelic word for “dream”, Bruadar is a blend of single malt whisky with honey and sloe berries, giving a sweet, soft and subtle taste. Made in Perthshire by Morrison & MacKay, this is a versatile liqueur, intended as equally suitable for an after-dinner drink or sipping from a hip flask on a cold day in the great outdoors.
Also from Morrison & MacKay, Columba Cream was originally created on the Isle of Mull in 1982, taking its name from St Columba. A rich and smooth blend of single malt, fresh cream and honey, based on a centuries-old family recipe for brose, this is one to try if you’re familiar with Baileys Irish Cream and is served the same way; chilled, over ice, or even with ice cream. The firm’s Ginger Tam’s is a rich, spicy, biting blend of a single malt whisky with honey and ginger, giving it plenty of kick and making it an excellent winter warmer and common cold defeater.
Another liqueur inspired by an ancient recipe, this one from the Highlands, Elgin-based merchant Duncan & MacPhail’s Dunkeld Atholl Brose was named the world’s best liqueur at the World Whisky Awards in 2012. Legend has it traditional Atholl Brose was named after the 1st Earl of Atholl, who quashed a Highland rebellion in 1475 by filling the rebel leader’s drinking well with the mixture, making him considerably easier to capture than if he had been drinking water. This liqueur forgoes the cream, with the result a delicate, amber-hued blend of single malt whisky, honey and herbs.
Produced since 1989 by family firm Meikle’s of Scotland in Newtonmore and made with a blend of Speyside whiskies and fermented heather honeycomb, Stag’s Breath has distinctive waxy, musty overtones with a drier taste than other liqueurs and a lower alcohol content. Also from Speyside, Master of Malt Speyside Whisky Liqueur is aimed at single malt aficionados, matured in sherry casks to give it a depth of character and flavour and blended with cinnamon, orange peel and cloves. Intended to be served over ice, and with an additional squeeze of orange peel, the liqueur comes in 10, 15 and 40-year-old varieties – although the latter will set you back around £520.