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Friday, October 16, 2009


(Pic: The new Drambuie bottle. Note the “sword slashes” on the neck)

I am not mad about liqueurs, but as a whisky drinker of long standing (in addition to wine, of course) I do like a drop of Drambuie every now and then.

This is historically the prince of liqueurs, and it has subtleties of taste that go far beyond the cloying sweetness of many other liqueurs. It has a Scotch whisky base into which has been infused honey and various herbs and spices, the end effect being a golden drink that tastes of honey, herbs, nutmeg, aniseed, saffron and of course whisky.

No drink has a more romantic history, or legend (some of the facts may have been polished a little over the centuries). The story begins with Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, would-be king of England. He was the son of the uncrowned king James III and his followers were called Jacobites, Jacobus being the Latin name for James. After these Jacobites were defeated by the British army at the battle of Culloden in 1745, Prince Charlie had to run for his life in Scotland with a price of thirty thousand pounds on his head, about fifteen million pounds (about R180 million) in today’s money. He eventually found temporary sanctuary on the island of Skye, and before fleeing to France he rewarded his helpers by giving them the recipe for his secret drink.

Well, that’s the story. The name Drambuie, meaning “the drink that satisfies”, came later. The drink was distributed commercially for the first time in Edinburgh in 1910 and since then it has had a steady following in many parts of the world. And the recipe is still a secret.

Now, a century after the first bottling in Edinburgh, Drambuie has changed its bottle design. The new bottle is clear, taller and thinner, and much easier for pouring (you don’t want to waste any of this nectar). Two unusual grooves on the neck of the bottle are intended to represent sword slashes, a reminder of the uprising of 1745. And four diamonds on the neck represent the values that are said to have motivated Bonnie Prince Charlie: risk, rebellion, passion and mystery.

Drambuie has appeared in many forms over the years. It has been mixed with rum, cherry brandy, milk, lime juice, ginger beer, vermouth. It is sometimes served on ice and sometimes it is set alight as Flaming Drambuie. About 45 mixed drinks have Drambuie as a component, and their weird and wonderful names include Cactus Prick, Peeping Tom, Chocolate Charlie and Sex with Venus. Rusty Nail, Drambuie and whisky, is probably the best known of these concoctions, and there is a vogue for a long drink consisting of Drambuie, ginger ale, ice and a fresh orange wedge.

I’m old-fashioned. I think it is best taken neat in a crystal liqueur glass after dinner, just one, maybe two. Not more. It’s 40 percent alcohol, and it costs about R230 a bottle. It’s for small doses on special occasions. – Michael Green