Drambuie: The Bonnie Spirit of Scotland

Whether you choose to believe the legend or not, you can still enjoy Drambuie in many different ways


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There are few liqueurs more synonymous with the history of their country than Drambuie, which claims its beginnings during the Jacobite uprisings in Scotland and which involves a Royal pedigree relating to a (would be) King of Britain.

The tale begins with the deposing of the Catholic King James in favor of a Protestant replacement. The Highland clans of Scotland were never pleased with this change, considering the Catholic Stuart Kings to be their kin. So, when the exiled King’s grandson, Charles Edward Stuart (known variously as Bonnie Prince Charlie or The Young Pretender), was landed in Scotland on a French warship, the clans greeted him as their rightful sovereign and rose to support him. After some initial success and the near complete capture of Scotland, they turned south and were defeated at the Battle of Culloden by Protestant forces. Charles Stuart was able to escape to the Isle of Skye, where he is said to have shared the recipe for Drambuie with the MacKinnon family, to show his gratitude for their help in his flight from the English forces.

Whether you choose to believe the legend or not, you can still enjoy Drambuie in many different ways

While the history surrounding the legend is accurate, whether or not the Prince himself conveyed such a recipe is highly doubtful, to say the least. Firstly, it’s unlikely Charles Stuart concerned himself with distilling and mixing alcohol. There are no records of such a drink being popular in the court of his grandfather or that of any previous monarch. Moreover, the Drambuie we know today, which is made with Scotch, came into existence in the Victorian era, produced by John Ross and his son, who claimed to have received the recipe from Clan MacKinnon. Moreover, the original recipe used Brandy and was more complex than any traditional concoction made from Scotch.

Having grown up in Rome, Prince Charles Stuart wouldn’t have had much access to Scotch, but there is ample evidence of medicinal blends of herbs, spices, and spirits, especially Brandy, being produced in this style in Continental Europe at the time, many of which survive today in one form or another; Benedictine, Jägermeister, and Frangelico are all fine modern examples. At the very least, it seems the original recipe for Drambuie was an import to Scotland, even if it wasn’t brought personally by the Prince. With Catholic and Jesuit operatives from France and Spain slipping in and out of the Highlands in secret, it’s likely one of them may have brought the recipe along, and the credit was simply given to Prince Charles, as he was the reason for their presence.

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Whether you choose to believe the legend or not, you can still enjoy Drambuie in many different ways. It can add a bit of clean sweetness, as well as pleasant herbal and floral flavors to any Scotch cocktail such as the Rob Roy, but it’s most well-known use is in the Rusty Nail, a potent blend of Drambuie and Scotch. This drink has its own pedigree as well, dating back the late 30s in New York.  This cocktail existed under various names, before being popularized by the Rat Pack as the Rusty Nail. The drink became such a hit that the owner of Drambuie wrote a piece for the New York Times discussing Drambuie’s use in the cocktail. From the Young Pretender to the Chairman of the Board, Drambuie’s history is as rich and vibrant as its flavor, and this is one of the best ways to enjoy its historic charms :

Rusty Nail:

2 parts Dewars or other fine blended Scotch
1 part Dambuie
drop of Angostura bitters
Lemon twist
Crushed ice

To make a Rusty Nail, fill a low ball glass with crushed ice. Add the Drambuie and bitters and then pour it over the Scotch. Give it a light stir and garnish with a lemon twist. It’s a refreshing, pleasant drink with a clean finish!

Photo source: Twitter

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