Atholl Brose

When I was telling some public transport acquaintances, (riding the same bus, at the same time for several years, eventually even a taciturn curmudgeon like myself meets some people,) about my recent adventures in Milk Punch, they mentioned that it sounded similar to a traditional drink they sometimes make called Atholl Brose.

Given my long term interest in Grain Based Beverages and Food Stuffs, Atholl Brose had always tweaked my interest, but never really enough to research and undertake production. I mean, Honey, Scotch, Oats and Cream, how could it be bad?

But to back track a bit…

Almost every civilized human culture on the planet has some form of grain based beverage. After all, soaking grain in water is the easiest way to derive some small portion of nutrition from it.

The New World has its corn based beverages, which vary in substance and sweetness all the way from liquidy beverages to puddings and eventually forming the basis for tortillas.

Likewise, in Asia, rice and soybeans get this treatment, creating a spectrum of nutrient rich foodstuffs from beverages and porridges to noodles and cakes.

Europe was no different, basing many of its grain beverages on Barley. To this day, you can buy Barley Water beverages at UK import stores and someone might think to make a batch for their senile old uncle who lives somewhere in the attic. Easier to digest than bread.

(At this point, I shall skip a long digression regarding the evolution of Barley Water to the Almond based Syrup which eventually came to be known as Orgeat. I instead refer you to the writeup of the talk I gave at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008: Homemade Ingredients. Most of that information is covered there.)

In Scotland, Oats and Barley were grains of choice, but much of the culinary energy was spent making the Oat palatable. Oats and Oatmeal are used nearly across the board as porridge, cake, and in a few cases beverages.

One of the most famous of these beverages is Atholl Brose, a drink composed of Oats, Honey, Cream, and, nicely, Scotch Whisky.

The name is a two part word. The Brose part of the name refers to the Oatmeal Water leftover from soaking oats. A nominally nutritious beverage, which only becomes palatable if you roast the oats and sweeten it with honey or sugar. Atholl refers to one of the original Pictish kingdoms of Scotland. It was a mountainous region, and calling the beverage “Atholl Brose” was sort of like calling it “Back Country Brose” or “Mountain Brose”, in other words, where the Whisky Stills were.

In any case, a little liquor and honey will put that annoying dyspeptic Uncle to sleep a bit faster than plain old Oat Water!

Scanning the Internet, I didn’t find much commonality among the various recipes for Atholl Brose.

Some were trifle-like puddings, others beverages, some just spiked porridge.

I figured I might as well try my own hand at a variation, using ingredients I like.

1 Cup Goat’s Milk
2 TBSP SF Beekeeper’s Honey
2 TBSP Toasted Steel Cut Oats*

Scald Milk. Stir in Honey and Oats. Allow to stand over night. Strain oats out of liquid and discard. Warm and combine 2-1 with not too expensive Scotch.

*To toast steel cut oats, either put them in a dry pan over low heat and toss frequently until they smell toasty or pre-heat an oven to 325F, spread the oats on a sheet pan, and put in the oven, tossing occasionally, until they smell toasted.

Huh, that’s actually tasty! I started adding it to my coffee in the morning and to whatever other Alcoholic Spirits were handy at night. For the record: Scotch=Awesome. Bourbon=Awesome. Rum=OK. Irish Whiskey=Meh. Rye=Meh. It is even good warm or hot with no booze at all.

But I was soon out of that small batch of Brose and felt a twang of guilt about discarding the Oats. It nagged at my conscience as it just seemed out of the spirit of the Scots people and their famous thriftiness to discard the partially used oats.

So I made a larger batch.


Atholl Brose

1 quart Goat Milk
1 Cup Toasted Steel Cut Oats
1 Cup Decent Local Honey (It should be sweet on par with a liqueur.)

Scald Milk. Stir in Honey and Oats. Allow to stand over night. Strain oats out of liquid and reserve.

Use Brose to sweeten your coffee, drink, whatever.

The Oats can then be cooked for porridge:

Preheat oven to 300 F. Combine Drained Oats with 3 Cups Water. Bring to a simmer in oven proof pan. Cover and place in oven. Cook for an hour or so. Spoon into bowls. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers and microwave for quick oatmeal during the week.

I might add, this is definitely the most successful preparation of Steel Cut Oats I have yet made. Good texture and body with very little crunchiness. Definitely a way forward with an ingredient I have found stubborn in the past.

And to finish, I will quote Father Jack Crilly, a dyspeptic, alcoholic invalid if there ever was one. “DRINK! FECK! ARSE! GIRLS! CAKE!”

2 thoughts on “Atholl Brose

  1. Thanks for this, Erik — looks like a brilliant way to use steel-cut oats, which my better half insists on keeping around for breakfast despite my whining that they’re too high-maintenance.

    Just curious: Most of the recipes I’ve seen call for steeping the oats (and nothing more) in *cold* water overnight, then combining the brose with the other ingredients (also cold) and shaking to temporarily emulsify; I’ve actually never made the drink properly (i.e., with oatmeal) so I have no experience in this regard, but did your method of preparation come from experimentation or from some specific source?

    • I’d experimented with steeped grain beverages before, just using cold water and raw grain. Really, really underwhelming.

      I some times toast the Scottish or Steel cut oatsd for oatmeal, so I knew that was more appealing than raw grain.

      Ultimately, I’m kind of crossing the idea of Atholl Brose with my preparation method for Orgeat.

      Making the Brose as a easy to use pre-mix containing the milk and sweetener makes it a lot more likely that it will get used. Plus, easier to mix honey in warm milk than cold water.

      I was really pleased that the Oatmeal made from the milk steeped steel cut oats turned out the best I’ve ever managed.

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