Atholl Brose: nectar of the Scots.

flag-mini-Scotland Until recently, I knew "Athole-Brose" as a dreamy, soaring song by the Cocteau Twins, a Scottish alternative rock band "known for complex instrumentation and atmospheric, non-lyrical vocals." Yep, Wikipedia summed them up nicely. The Twins' mysterious lyrics and quirky song titles like "Ella Megalast Burls Forever" and "Spooning Good Singing Gum" make for a pretty unique musical experience.
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But this post is about liquor, not music. The original Atholl (or Athole) Brose is a sweet-ish libation stirred up from three traditional Scottish ingredients--honey, oats, and whisky--into a creamy heady broth, or "brose." Whiskipedia (the encyclopedia of whiskey!) explains that "... brose is a Scottish form of brewis or broth, deriving from the Middle English browes ... Brose is oatmeal with boiling water or milk poured over it, and Atholl Brose is a mixture of oatmeal, whisky and honey." NOTE: Whisky = Scotland ... WhiskEy = everyone else.
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Sound weird and unappetizing? You're right ... it DOES sound weird and unappetizing. However, if you like Irish cream type liqueurs, you'll probably like Atholl Brose. And remember that oats are a heart-healthy superfood, so you might actually live longer quaffing some Atholl Brose now and then. Or daily.
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Some Atholl Brose recipes call for just the oats, whisky and honey, resulting in a clear(ish) brew, and some add measures of heavy cream for a slightly more substantial liqueur. If the cream is whipped and mixed with toasted oats, the Brose becomes dessert. In the interest of truly thorough research, I made both.
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For lack of a better term, oatmeal gets sort of goopy while it's cooking, but it's the goop that helps create an oatmeal "liquor" which is the base for Atholl Brose. Soaking rolled oats in water for a short time, then straining and pressing out the liquid, yields an opaque, oaty essence that comes to life with honey and whisky (who wouldn't!).
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I found that rolled oats were best as they produce more of the essence (goop, if you will) than steel cut oats, which is my new favorite oatmeal.
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If this talk of oatmeal is giving you flashbacks to gluey gray globs served by your ever-lovin' mum on cold school mornings, wait! it gets better, honest. Once the oatmeal essence is extracted, stir in some honey (the clover variety is fine, but if you can get your mitts on Scottish heather honey all the better), a slug of whiskey (again, Scottish whisky would be swell but I used Irish Bushmills--highly recommended by my father-in-law for novice whiskey drinkers like us) and some heavy cream. Mix, chill, pour, sip ... ahhh. It might remind you of egg nog, although it's not nearly so thick and sweet, and it would be fine sprinkled with some cinnamon or nutmeg--like a drunken oatmeal cookie. But it's tasty all on its own.
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When you crave something fluffier and desserty, whip up the cream first, then beat in the honey-whisky mixture and stir in some toasted rolled or steel cut oats. Top with a few berries and a sprinkling of oats. You'll have a sweet whisky cream with some pleasant chewy substance to it.
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As for what put the Atholl into this brose ... back in the mid(ish) 1400s in or around Blair Atholl, Perthshire--smack in the middle of Scotland--the 1st Earl of Atholl was at the business end of a Highland rebellion being carried out by the 11th Earl of Ross. Knowing his Scottish kinsmen's taste for spirits--and oats, and honey--the Earl of Atholl poured all three down a well that the Earl of Ross liked to drink from, creating an irresistible and intoxicating nectar: Atholl's Brose! I can't help but think that was an awful waste of good pantry staples. But sure enough, No. 11 drank the heavenly mixture until he was sufficiently impaired and easily captured by No. 1. Hooray! What this means in the vast history of Scotland, I'm not sure, but since my mother discovered we are distantly connected to the lineage of Atholl and the Clan Murray, I'm siding with the 1st Earl on this one. A visit to Blair Castle will certainly be on our Scotland itinerary someday.
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When you're done here, scuttle over to YouTube and have a listen to "Athole-Brose." Then stir--or whip--up a batch of Atholl Brose, and feel your oats. You just might feel a bit friskier after a helping!
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I found this recipe for Atholl Brose via Kate Shea Kennon of BlogCritics.org. She says it is "attributed to the Royal Scots Fusiliers from André Simon's 1948 A Concise Encyclopædia of Gastronomy: Section VII, Wines and Spirits." The oats need to steep overnight, so start the recipe the day before you want to sip. How those fusiliers found the time to mix up Atholl Brose I don't know, but I imagine it kept them warm and satisfied during cold military marches.

Atholl Brose Liqueur
Makes one serving--can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or multiplied as needed to fill up a well

1/2 cup oatmeal, ideally "old fashioned" rolled oats (not instant)
1-1/2 cups cold water
3-1/2 oz. whiskey
2-1/2 oz. cream (heavy whipping or half-and-half)
1/2 oz. (1 tablespoon) honey

Mix oatmeal and cold water in a jar or measuring up; cover and let steep overnight. The next day, place a mesh strainer or two thicknesses of cheesecloth over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the strainer or cheesecloth, catching the liquid in the bowl. Press as much of the liquid from the oats into the bowl as well.

Give the resulting liquid a good stir, then pour 3-1/2 oz. of it into a large glass. Add the whiskey, cream and honey. Stir together well. Recipe can be doubled, because you want to share the brose with a friend, right?

* * * * *

Whipped Atholl Brose
4 servings, more or less

The whipped version is equally tasty, with chewy nuggets of toasted oatmeal to keep your mouth busy and your tummy satisfied. It works beautifully as a dessert. Recipe adapted from
Foodness Gracious, a California food blogger. He's a Scottish ex-pat, so he must know what he's talking about. Hopefully the heart-healthy effects of oatmeal counter the heavy cream. Don't think about it! Just eat and enjoy.

1/3 cup rolled "old fashioned" (not instant) or steel cut oats
1-1/4 cups whipping cream
3 tbsp honey
2-3 tbsp whiskey


In a large non-stick skillet, carefully toast the oats over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pan from heat and pour toasted oats into a small bowl.

Pour whipping cream into a medium bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer on high speed until it forms soft peaks. Mix the honey and whiskey together until the honey dissolves; pour into the whipped cream and continue beating a few more minutes. The cream should still be soft, not stiff. Stir in the toasted oats. Chill for 30 minutes and serve in small bowls. Top with berries, a sprinkle of oats, thin cookies (Pepperidge Farm
Bordeaux cookies would be nice) or whatever inspires you.

Tha sin glè mhath! (Scottish Gaelic for "Excellent!" Or so I'm told.)
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