Tastes of Scotland: Atholl Brose

Atholl giants walk the Earth.

By Carolyn McDonald Graf

Atholl Brose is a whisky liquor traditionally served during Hogmany, the Scottish New Year. It is a combination of whisky, honey, oatmeal, and often cream. Its origin is the subject of much myth and folklore and goes back to the time when giants roamed Scotland.

One story tells of a particular giant in the region of Atholl, which is now the upper parts of Perthshire. This fearsome giant terrorized the area by stealing the grains, cows, pigs, and other stores, leaving the people hungry and starving. The bodies of the brave men who tried to thwart this giant were found strewn about the hillsides, if they were found at all.

A young Hunter named Dougal was determined to rid Atholl of the giant and set about to find a way. With great stealth, he discovered the giant’s den. One night as the giant was pillaging a nearby town, Dougal went into the giant’s den. There he found a huge stone carved out as a drinking vessel. He filled it with oats, whisky, and some honey he found in the giant’s stores. Then he hid and waited for the giant’s return. When he came back from his nightly rampage, the giant greedily drank the brose, another name for oatmeal. Dougal heard the snores of the happily passed-out giant and slew the drunken villain. He returned triumphantly to his village and his recipe for Atholl Brose was celebrated almost as much as the death of the giant.

The recipe for Atholl Brose was first officially recorded in 1475 with an alternate story of its origin. A rebellion against King James III was being led by John of Islay, chief of Clan Donald, Lord of the Isles. The King sent John Stewart, the 1st Earl of Atholl, to capture the rebel leader. Stewart’s men discovered that the rebels drank from a local well. At night, Stewart sent his men with oats, whisky and honey to fill the well. The rebels became so intoxicated with this wonderful drink that their leader was easily captured and the rebellion quelled. Although the rebellion actually occurred, it was probably put down through battle, as many know the MacDonalds can certainly hold their whisky.

Whatever the origin, Atholl Brose is a delightful drink on any cold winter day, but especially to welcome the New Year.

Atholl Brose Recipe

The recipe calls for oat milk, which you can make yourself as described below, or you can avoid that step and purchase it from your local grocery.

Atholl Brose


½ cup oatmeal
1 ½ cup water
8 ounces whisky
3 teaspoons honey
2 ounces cream (optional)

Combine the oatmeal and water in a bowl. Cover with a cloth and let sit overnight.

Add the whisky, cover, and let sit overnight again.

Pour the mixture into a sieve and drain the liquid into a bowl.

*If using commercial oat milk, start here with 2 cups of oat milk, add the whisky and continue.

Add the cream if desired and whisk in thoroughly.

Whisk in the honey until completely combined.

Transfer the Atholl Brose to a bottle and cap tightly. Store in the refrigerator. Shake well before each serving.

Discard after a week, if it lasts that long.