Friday, February 3, 2017

Atholl Brose

It seems that Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birthday was last week. You know, the one who wrote one of my favorite quotations:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

This is a date that is important to the people of Scotland, and some celebrate it each year with a Burns’ Night supper.

Atholl Brose

As it happens, I have a college friend who has lived in Scotland much of her life since college. We drifted apart for a while (decades!), then reconnected at a gathering a few years ago, and now we’re FB friends. We compare notes on the size of appliances in the UK and Ireland versus the U.S., and how to heat very old buildings and the like.

On Burns’ birthday, she mentioned that she was making haggis. You may relax, dear readers, for I do not plan to make anything that involves finding a sheep’s stomach and stuffing it with the sheep’s heart, liver and lungs. But she also mentioned making “athole brose” as a part of the celebration. Of course I had to ask, what the heck is that?

It’s a very Scottish alcoholic beverage that includes only four ingredients: oats, water, honey, and whisky. Easy to make. Think of it as Scotch eggnog.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve read that the “Atholl” part refers to whoever first popularized the drink, and “brose” is kind of a porridge involving oats. Anyway, I persuaded my friend to give me her recipe, and it’s very flexible.

Atholl Brose

First, in the morning or even night before, you soak a good 2 cups of oatmeal (rather than rolled oats, but they will work too) in about 4 cups of cold water; stir every now and then. You find the oats eventually exude a thick extract.

When you are ready to start making the brose, strain the liquid into a glass/measuring jug. 

Take about a pint of this oat water, add about a pint of thick cream, and about a cup of runny honey. Stir, and add more honey to taste if you wish. 

Then add about half a cup of whisky; that's just for the mild base. When you’re serving it, you can add more whisky to taste! 

I ended up with two quarters of atholl brose. Of course, I used Irish oats and Irish whiskey, and County Cork has plenty of cattle producing a lot of cream. I will say that the honey you choose, wherever it comes from, has a significant effect on the flavor of the drink, so pick a honey whose flavor you like, or pick one with a pleasant neutral flavor.

I’m not sure what the shelf-life for this stuff is (or maybe nobody expects it to last long!). I’d keep it in the refrigerator, to be safe, and you may need to shake it up a bit before you pour.

I’ll leave you with the Scottish toast to your health, slàinte, which looks a whole lot like the Irish version, sláinte. But what’s an accent between friends?

And may I add that this week saw St. Bridget's Day in Ireland? She doesn't get the attention that St. Patrick does, but she was a busy woman anyway: she was the patron saint of babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle farmers, children whose parents are not married, children whose mothers are mistreated by the children's fathers, Clan Douglas, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, Ireland, Leinster, mariners, midwives, milkmaids, nuns, poets, the poor, poultry farmers, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travelers, and watermen. Good person to have on your side! 

Tradition has it that the ewes in Ireland are about to produce spring lambs--would that I were there! But in Cruel Winter you can join Maura Donovan at Sullivan's Pub, where she and several other people--staff, friends and strangers--are snowed in for a long night--and they solve an old murder.

Cruel Winter, coming March 14th (before St. Patrick's Day!), and available for pre-order at Amazon (where it's on sale for 1/3 off at the moment, but I don't know for how long) and Barnes and Noble (for the same discounted price).


  1. Every post you write, I feel like I'm getting a history lesson from Ireland! Thanks!

  2. What a wonderful and enlightening blog post. I love to learn something new and I usually do when I read your information each time. I won't be making this beverage but it did make me wonder if I know anyone who would drink it. (Only could think of one!!). Thank you Sheila.

  3. This is fascinating. But you didn't answer one question: what did the brose taste like and did you like it?

  4. Exactly, Peg! I've heard of it but what does it taste like?

    Pat D

  5. Taste--I'd guess smooth thickness from the oat liquid, with the taste of the cream, honey, and whisky.
    I wonder if the remaining oats (after draining) would be a good addition to yeast bread. I think they would add a nice chewiness.