One of my favourite things about mixing cocktails is that there are always stories involved – where they originate, how they have evolved or even who famously drank them. I truly believe that by savouring the history and/or legends around our drinks, we enrich the actual experience of mixing, tasting and sharing with friends.
So, please humour me… let’s imagine we’ve set some chairs around a pub table. Let’s pour our drinks, toast to each other’s health and take some time together. Don’t despair! At the end of my tale, I have a recipe for you.
Whilst it is not my favourite spirit – I prefer good old rum – it is interesting to share that whisky is by far one of the most varied spirits out there. Unlike the intentional tastelessness of Vodka, whisky made in one part of Scotland can and usually will – taste completely different from whisky made in another part of Scotland.
This diversity in such a small amount of space is what gives this spirit category greatness.
We are going to discount the Americanised whiskies for this post – yes I know it hurts, but it’s all about the flavours Scottish whisky brings this time round.
I can this question burning in your mind: what exactly is Atholl Brose?
Well to answer this we have to visit a little tale first told to me by the Monkey Shoulder global ambassador Grant Neave, and legend of the cocktail, Gaz Regan (yes the one and only).
It’s around 1475, and the Earl of Atholl wants a Scottish castle all for himself. The problem is that the current owner of the castle is putting up a bit of a fight. Now the Earl knows the opposing army has the local water well (a big strategic point in the fight). Rather than sending his men to certain death in the battle that would most certainly occur, he sends in a small team of his best men to ‘spike’ the water In the well. Armed with the greatest poison known to man they set of to the little village. The poison of course refers to the alcohol; a rather medieval form the whisky would’ve taken back then.
So armed with the rather rough-whisky, oats, cream and honey, they set off to the little village whilst the opposing forces were asleep. Into the well they mixed the whisky, honey, cream and oats. The trick, no doubt, was to cover the taste of the whisky and when the opposing army woke up and tried the water they soon found there was something different afoot.
So what did the men do when they realised their water source was contaminated? They realised it tasted fine and shared it around with the men who had yet to realise. This obviously led to them becoming rather inebriated.
Of course the opposing earl did not know what was taking place and sent them into battle half cut. The battle was short, swift (and rather hilarious no doubt) as a direct result of the Earl of Atholl’s forward thinking.
This is the first record of this cocktail being used and is popularly considered one of the first whisky cocktails. Of course, these days, the recipes for this drink vary from source to source but generally the combination of the cream, honey, oats and whisky remains.
At last year’s London Cocktail, I attended a historical whisky tour hosted by Grant Neave and Gaz Regan. The event was essentially a time line of whisky cocktails starting with the Atholl Brose, and is where I obtained this guideline to the recipe:
“The Atholl Brose is a combination of water, Scottish oats, whisky & honey. By combining these ingredients and possibly adding some forest fruits (strawberries, cherries etc.) or even some liqueurs like Drambuie or Disaronno, this really can be turned into something a little special” – Grant Neave, Global Brand Ambassador for Monkey Shoulder Whisky.
Granted, the original recipe is more a meal than a drink; but refined in the following recipe, it resembles more of a cocktail than it ever has. This is a prime example of refinement over time. Cocktails have been around in popular culture since the 1920’s and whilst some have the same recipes they did back then, most have experienced changes and tweaks.
Atholl Brose recipe (taken from: http://londoneats.wordpress.com)
Step 1: The Oat Milk
• 1 cup oats (rolled, pinhead…your choice!)
• 2 cups lukewarm water
Mix the oats and the water. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes (longer doesn’t hurt). Put into a blender and then pass through a muslin cloth. As you get to the end of the, now-strained, mixture you should be left with just a sludgy-oaty mess, squeeze this to get as much liquid from the mixture as possible.
Step 2: Making the Atholl Brose
• 7 parts oat milk
• 7 parts whisky
• 5 parts good single cream
• 1 part honey
Mix the honey with the ‘oat milk’. Put everything into a cocktail shaker or large jar. Shake until mixed. Taste the Brose, and then if required, adjust to taste (more honey, more cream, more whisky…). And finally the most important step of all: Serve chilled or over ice.
It has been great to spend this happy hour with you…I’ll see you soon at our favourite table.
Picture of Whisky & Oats from WikiHow.