Top image: A Toddy punch with Drambuie
Think Drambuie and images of that liqueur in the back of the bar behind the whisky, gin and other spirits comes to mind. Think Drambuie and images of that Rusty Nail you order once in a while pop into your head. Few other liqueurs or spirits have been around as long as Drambuie though and this sweet and spicy liqueur made of Scotch whisky, Heather honey and a proprietary blend of herbs and spices, is often underrated.
Drambuie as a liqueur (the company would come later) traces its origins back to 1746 and Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s (also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) attempt to restore the Stuart family to the English throne. As legend has it, Charlie was on the run from King’s men, after losing the Battle of Culloden, and crossed into the Scottish Highlands, in particular the Isle of Skye. There he encountered John McKinnon of the Clan McKinnon, who helped the Prince escape the King’s forces. As a reward for this, Charlie gave McKinnon his personal liqueur recipe. The Scots would hold onto the recipe for generations.
By 1873, the recipe made its way to John Ross at the Bradford Hotel on the Isle of Skye. Ross made the liqueur for his guests who commented that it was the drink that satisfies, or “an dram buidheach“. This was shorted to Drambuie and the legend was reborn. By 1909 Malcom McKinnon arrived in Edinburgh and began producing Drambuie, paying a royalty to the Ross family. By 1914 he established the Drambuie Liqueur Company and over the next few decades its popularity soared. During Prohibition in the United States, Drambuie gained a reputation as the perfect spirit with to mix many of the harsh bath tub spirits produced, masking their flavors. In fact the famed Rusty Nail (one part Drambuie, two parts Scotch Whiskey, a twist of lemon and an ice cube) evolved from these Prohibition years.
Though the recipe for Drambuie was freely given to the Clan McKinnon back in the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie, its recipe is a closely guarded secret “only three people living know the actual recipe,” says Vance Henderson, Drambuie’s enigmatic brand ambassador in the U.S., Even with William Grant and Sons purchasing Drambuie in 2014, it remains hidden away.
Despite its age and its reputation as an old man’s drink, Drambuie is not only making a comeback, it’s becoming kind of cool. “More bartenders are around the world are seeing what this iconic liqueur can do” says Henderson who says that the challenges with the liqueurs’ comeback were rooted in three distinct things: “The era that popularized the drink are long gone; a bottle change in 2012 made it harder to recognize in bars; and a lack of experimentation over the years.”
It seems this historic concoction has more than overcome its challenges and found a place in the now.
Backyard Buie (Drambuie Collins variation with beer)
1 Part Drambuie
2 Parts Grapefruit Juice
3 Parts Belgian White beer (any brewery will do)
4 Mint Leaves
Mix the Drambuie with a scoop of ice cubes, add the grapefruit and mix, then add the beer and top with the mint leaves.
1.25 Parts Drambuie
1 Part Water
1 Part Grape Juice
1 Bar Spoon of Oloroco Sherry
1 Dash of Augustine Bitters
Mix the ingredients together and pour into an ice filled glass, top with red wine.