Drambuie is a Scottish liqueur. Developed in 1745, it is made with a fine aged Scottish malt whiskey to which a blend of heather honey and a secret collection of herbs and spices is added. The recipe is closely guarded to this day and, according to the company, only a few people actually know it.
A liqueur is a distilled alcoholic beverage to which sweeteners, spices, herbs, fruits, or roots have been added by redistillation, infusion, or maceration. They are sometimes called cordials. Whiskey liqueurs are a distinct category of liqueurs in their own right, but Drambuie, through taste, or good marketing, or both, is the king-pin of these.
The Story of Drambuie
The drink, as the story goes, was first commissioned by Scottish prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who later gave his secret recipe to Captain John Mackinnon, either because the family protected the prince, giving him refuge during his exile from power on the Isle of Sky (one stop he made, at least), or because the Captain provided loyal service during the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745 to 1746 and then helped the prince escape to France. Since then, the MacKinnon clan have made millions off the the drink and Drambuie is produced today by a company controlled by Captain John MacKinnon’s descendants, who are now the largest liqueur producer of Britain. It is distributed in the United States by Bacardi USA, but still made by the company in Scotland. Although Drambuie became a registered trademark in 1893, it did not become commercially available until 1910.
Drambuie, about 80 proof (40% ABV), is the liqueur used in the well-known “dive bar” drink, the Rusty Nail, which is a mixture of regular whiskey and Drambuie, but that most likely developed during prohibition, when Drambuie was used to mix with the cheap raw prohibition spirits, which could be quite terrible and needed a bit of help to be drinkable. The liqueur is also used in countless recipes but it’s chief use is as a cordial served at room temperature for sipping. Some, however, will find it too sweet for this purpose.
These days, as with many liqueurs, lots of people have it poured over ice. It is also good in coffee, with or without some fresh cream on top, and some people even enjoy it in hot tea. It is a good addition to almost any whiskey.
We can only speculate as to what flavorings Drambuie contains, other than heather honey. A couple of things that have been suggested are anise, nutmeg, and saffron. The honey, spices and herbs are infused into aged Speyside and Highland malt whiskies, creating what the company calls an elixir.
Taste of Drambuie
Drambuie has a slightly smokey, very sweet, and herbal taste. Unlike many honeyed whiskeys, you will taste the honey in Drambuie, as well as the distinct note of spices and herbs. The consistency is slightly syrupy. Due to the sweetness, not man will want to drink it by itself, which is why it is usually used in mixed drinks, like the ones below.
Where Did the Name Come From?
The name Drambuie is usually said to be an Anglicization of the Gaelic words an dram buidheachwhich means “the drink that satisfies.” Also, the words butdram buidhein means “golden drink” or more simply yellow drink in Gaelic, so the name could have come from this term as well. Since the former sounds more like a marketing invention, the latter seems more likely. Also see What is a dram?