Drambuie is a brand most drinkers recognize however, few know many Drambuie cocktails. As such, it’s often pigeonholed as a relic of history instead of a versatile cocktail tool to add to your collection. But what’s not to like about Drambuie, anyway? It’s a Scotch whisky liqueur bottled at 40% ABV, made with honey, herbs and spices. Furthermore, it boasts a lengthy history, with a Gaelic derivation of a name translating to “the drink that satisfies”.
The story goes—and take this with as many grains of salt as you’d like—that the whisky liqueur was the drink of choice for one Prince Charles Edward Stuart, in 1745. He passed the recipe to John MacKinnon, from the Isle of Skye, who helped shepherd him to safety after some failed military and political machinations. Then in 1893 this drink was patented as Drambuie by a hotelier family who persuaded the MacKinnons to batch and sell what had remained, until that time, a hand-me-down family recipe.
In the modern age, Drambuie is now a part of the William Grant & Sons portfolio. And as with many other overlooked ingredients of the past, there are numerous varieties of Drambuie cocktails beginning to be deployed.
“Drambuie gets a bad reputation because of who we would assume is drinking it,” says Waites Laseter, lead bartender of Backspace Bar and The Yard on Frenchman in New Orleans. “They’re stuffy, musty and probably grumpy, drinking the same ‘Dram & soda’ they have been for more decades than our new cocktail drinker has been alive.”
Perhaps it’s time for a change. “It’s such a lovely and versatile spirit,” Laseter says. “Dust off the bottle on the back shelf, pour yourself a finger, and start dissecting the flavor profile.”
Drambuie Cocktails: The Classic
-1.5 ounces blended Scotch whisky
-.75 ounce Drambuie
Directions: Pour over ice into a rocks glass. Stir lightly, optionally garnishing with a lemon twist.
For many people, the Rusty Nail is the Alpha and Omega of Drambuie in the drinks world. Two ingredients, no mixing glasses or shakers required. Pour in some Scotch whisky and Drambuie, and voilà, you have yourself a cocktail. Feel free to toy around with the ratio on this one as well. Some prefer two ounces of Scotch whisky to half an ounce of Drambuie. However, the original recipe actually calls for a 50:50 split.
There’s fun to be had making Drambuie cocktails with different types of Scotch whisky too. Similarly to how the modern classic cocktail, the Penicillin, includes both blended Scotch whisky and peated single malt, you can use the same trick here. Use one ounce of blended Scotch whisky, half an ounce of your favorite big, bold peated malt, and half an ounce of Drambuie. As Drambuie is known as “The Isle of Skye Liqueur”, making Talisker your peated selection would be fitting.
Rusty Nail /Photo Credit: Drambuie
More Drambuie Cocktails to Try
-1.5 oz Drambuie
– green tea
Directions: Brew the tea and pour in Drambuie after removing the tea bag. Optionally sweeten to taste with sugar, or brighten with a squeeze of lemon.
A classic Hot Toddy calls for whiskey and honey combined with tea. Why not cut out the middleman and put Drambuie to work? The idea comes from Sam Selio, a bartender at Pennyroyal in Cardiff, Wales, who calls it a, “cheeky, super easy recipe for a smashing little twist on a Hot Toddy.”
Drambuie Toddy /Photo Credit: Drambuie
The Lion’s Mouth
-1 ounce Drambuie
-1 ounce bourbon
-2 dashes grapefruit bitters
Directions: Stir all ingredients well with ice. Strain and pour over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
This recipe comes from Josh Lindley of Bartender Atlas, and one of the co-creators of the Toronto Cocktail Conference. “When working with Drambuie it’s important to keep the lighter and floral notes in mind,” he says. “There’s much more going on beyond the honey sweetness.”
For Lindley, the ingredient has been overlooked, thanks to its connotation as something your grandfather might have a dusty old bottle of in the liquor cabinet. “But there’s no reason to exclude Drambuie from cocktail development, in fact, it serves a role not many other liqueurs can, with its sweetness and strong whisky backbone.”
– 2 ounces Catoctin Creek 1757 Virginia Brandy
-.5 ounce Drambuie
-.5 ounce amontillado sherry
Directions: Shake all ingredients well with ice, and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
Chris Lane of Lolinda in San Francisco created this drink showcasing Catoctin Creek’s 1757 Virginia Brandy. If you can’t snag a bottle of that, consider replacing it with another aged American grape brandy. “Sultry and supple, this mix of brandy, sherry and honey-sweetened liqueur is delicious anytime of the year,” Lane says.
Directions: Stir all ingredients well with ice. Strain and serve up in a coupe or Martini glass. Garnish with a flamed orange twist.
Andrey Kalinin showcased Drambuie alongside Laphroaig in this bold cocktail. A Bordeaux red is specifically called for, though another full-bodied, flavorful red wine should do the trick in a pinch. It’ll add a fruity backbone that plays well with the peat and Drambuie’s honey.
Tam O’Shanter /Photo Credit: Laphroaig
Directions: Stir all ingredients well with ice. Strain into a coupe glass and serve up, garnishing with a grapefruit peel and Luxardo cherry.
As a blend of Highland malts, Shackleton’s flavor profile is perfect alongside the heather and honey of Drambuie. The Cherry Heering, meanwhile, adds some richness and complexity to that pairing. Meanwhile, the name smartly pays homage to the Rusty Nail, and also, Shackleton’s explorer roots.
Directions: Dry shake all ingredients (no ice) before adding ice and shaking again. Strain and pour into a coupe glass. Adorn the drink with a few coffee beans as garnish.
This drink from Glenfiddich ambassador Allan Roth is rich and bold, melding together Glenfiddich and Drambuie, alongside coffee and demerara. The small bitter dose provided by the China China keeps things from veering too far astray.
-1.25 ounces Drambuie
-1 ounce barrel-aged gin
-.75 ounce lemon juice
Directions: Shake all ingredients well with ice. Strain and serve up in a coupe.
Laseter puts a new touch on the Bee’s Knees by using Drambuie, which in turn provides the drink’s honey. “I use Drambuie as my base, letting the rich honey notes play forward, and toss in a barrel-aged gin to give it some depth and punch–I prefer NOLA-made Seven Three Distilling’s barrel-aged Gentilly,” he says. “It’s a big hit, and one of my easiest and favorite classic cocktails to modify with Drambuie.”
He also says that Drambuie cocktails can work well with anything from mezcal, thanks to its soft floral and light smoky notes, and tropical drinks, thanks to its sweetness and baking spices.
Ready to stir up some Drambuie cocktails?
Want to enjoy Distiller ad-free? Join Distiller Pro today to support the Distiller platform and keep ads off of your screen.