Atholl Brose

John Birdsall helped me write up the Atholl Brose cocktail I created for The Coachman on

Erik Ellestad’s Atholl Brose Cocktail, and John Birdsall

(Check the link for photos!)

When Erik Adkins, bar manager for the Slanted Door Group of restaurants in San Francisco, visited Clover Club in Brooklyn a few years ago he had a drink they were calling Atholl Brose: Scotch stirred with honey and topped with lightly whipped cream. In Scotland, Atholl Brose is a traditional beverage typically composed of the liquid from soaking oats—when you make oatmeal from raw steel-cut or stone-ground oats, you soak [the oats] in water so they prehydrate and don’t take as long to cook. To this, Scots would add honey, whisky, and cream.

When we started talking about the drinks for The Coachman, Atholl Brose was on the short list of cocktails Erik Adkins wanted to do, but we didn’t want to just replicate Clover Club’s drink. Plus I wanted to include some form of the traditional oat infusion, which the Clover Club had left out.

I tried a bunch of different combinations of these ingredients in various iterations and was starting to think I wouldn’t find a really good drink. Then one of the Coachman’s cooks, tasting an early test version, told me I needed to find some way to heighten the flavor of the oats. I took the roasted and soaked oats home and made oatmeal from them.

Eating them for breakfast the next day, I realized that the coffee I was drinking was heightening the roasted flavor of the oats without overwhelming them, kind of like bitters behave in a typical cocktail. I bought cold coffee concentrate on my way to work. As soon as I tasted the combination I knew we had a winner.

Atholl Brose (Scottish Breakfast)
Makes 1 cocktail

1 1/2 ounces blended Scotch whisky
1/2 ounce honey syrup (*recipe follows)
1/4 ounce cold-process coffee concentrate
2 ounces oat-infused milk (**recipe follows)
Freshly grated nutmeg

METHOD: Combine Scotch, honey syrup, coffee concentrate, and oat-infused milk in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. (It is also really tasty warm, instead of chilled.)

*Honey Syrup
Add 1 cup honey to 1 cup hot water. Stir until honey is dissolved. Store in the fridge.

**Oat-Infused Milk
Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread 1 cup steel-cut or stone-ground oats onto a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven for a half hour, then stir to redistribute and bake another 15 minutes, until they’re evenly tan and smell a bit like popcorn. Set aside to cool. Pour 1 quart whole milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Warm until almost simmering (i.e., scalded). Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 cup sugar, and the roasted oats. Add the hot milk, cool at room temperature, and refrigerate overnight. Next day, strain the oats, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Save the oats—you can make oatmeal by adding 2 to 3 cups of water and cooking over a low heat for about 45 minutes.

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!”