Drambuie: Scotland’s First Commercially Produced Liqueur

To fully appreciate how Scotland claimed drambuie as its own, one must possess a general


James II and VII, was the last Catholic monarch in the British Isles. Portrait by Nicolas de Largillière, c 1686. Wikipedia

knowledge of what is known in Scottish/English history as the Rebellion of ’45. James II of England and Ireland (James VII of Scotland) converted to Catholicism when he succeeded his brother to the throne in 1685. The Protestant factions of government feared losing favor of the court to Catholicism because James was more inclined to accept a certain “freedom” of religion. James’s second wife, Mary of Modena, a Catholic, presented him an heir to the throne in the form of James Edward Stuart. The Protestants invited the Dutch William of Orange to invade England and set up a Protestant alliance with the Netherlands. William was married to Mary, James’s daughter by first wife Ann Hyde. 

William invaded in 1688, and James fled the country to reside in France. In what is known as the Glorious Revolution of 1689, Parliament declared that James abdicated his throne by fleeing the country, and his daughter Mary became queen. She ruled with her husband, who became William III of England and Ireland (William II of Scotland). This led to a constitutional monarchy and a “Bill of Rights.” 

Meanwhile, many, especially those in Scotland where the Stuarts had served as kings for centuries, still regarded James as their king. They came to be known as Jacobites. Scotland’s Catholics rose in ire after Scotland’s Parliament replaced the Episcopalian church with the Presbyterian one and with the 1692 Massacre at Glencoe. 

Such feelings of anger grew steadily. With the death of Mary and later of William, Mary’s sister Anne came to the throne. However, Anne could not provide an heir and so Parliament named her cousin, George, Elector of Hanover, (George II) as her successor. George was chosen because he was a Protestant. The Jacobites thought Anne’s half-brother, James Edward Stuart, should be her successor. The Jacobites threw their support the way of the Stuart line. 

cave.jpgEventually, James Edward Stuart married Maria Clementina Sobeiska, godchild of Pope Clement XI. She presented her husband a son, Charles Edward Stuart, who came to be known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” Acting as his father’s Regent, Charles led a small force to restore his father’s claim to the English throne. He landed on the West Coast of Scotland on the island of Eriskay. In August 1745, Prince Charles Edward raised his father’s standard at Glenfinnan, beginning of the Rebellion of ’45. The most powerful clans in the Highlands supported the idea of James Stuart as king. They Jacobites fought brilliantly until they knew defeat at the hands of the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden. 

Prince Charlie fled for his life. The British government place a price upon his head of £30000. However, no clansman would betray him. Prince Charlie hid with loyal clansmen, but was always on the move. At length, Flora MacDonald disguised the Prince as her maid and smuggled him onto the Isle of Skye. One of the Mackinnons (Captain John Mackinnon) of Strathaird rowed him to a safe hiding place until a French ship arrived off the West Coast and managed to transport Prince Charlie back to France in September 1746. 

1fe0f1e1f18269930bc13ffdea2536f7.jpgIn gratitude, Prince Charlie presented the Mackinnon family his secret formula for his personally crafted liqueur, an dram budbeach, which means “a drink that satisfies” in Gaelic. Today we know the liqueur as “drambuie.” This recipe would have included a concentrated tincture of essential oils intended to be used to flavor spirits, likely brandy. The Mackinnons guarded the secret of the drink for more than 150 years. They made only very small quantities of the liqueur, and it was served reverently at the annual Gathering of the Clans. 

In 1906, Malcolm Mackinnon emigrated from the Isle of Skye to Edinburgh, where he took employment in an established distilling house, W. Macbeth & Sons. By the age of 23 he was a junior partner. He was considered a connoisseur of Scotch whiskies. By 25, his senior partners had passed, and Malcolm found himself the sole owner of the distilling house. It was his idea to produce the family’s secret liqueur, and eventually, he persuaded the elder clansmen. The recipe was given into his trust, with a demand for secrecy. 

Malcolm set to work to convert the many varied ingredients into a commercial formula. He worked alone in a cellar under Union Street. He had no utensils other than those commonly found in a kitchen. It took weeks to fill a dozen bottles of the elixir for Malcolm insisted upon creating the mixture as he had observed his family members do during his childhood. 

drambuie-cocktailsMalcolm sold twelve cases of the mixture that first year. But the next saw an influx of orders from fellow Scotsmen, who wished to taste Scotland’s first commercially produced liqueur. In 1916, the cellarman of the House of Lords presented ®Drambuie its seal of special approbation. The legend has it that the family secret is still locked away. And supposedly, a member of the Mackinnon family are the only ones permitted to mix the formula. Four small vials of the mixture can create 1200 gallons of Drambuie.

There are less flamboyant versions of how the liqueur came about including a French officer presenting the recipe to John Mackinnon rather than Prince Charlie. Others say it was a personal physician who discovered a box of tinctures when the prince fled Culloden. Some tales of have the Mackinnons presenting the formula to John Ross, the owner of the Broadfront Hotel on the Isle of Skye, and Ross’s son James used the elixir to flavor whisky. James Ross registered the trademark in 1893. The story goes that James’s son, John, became friends with Malcolm Mackinnon, and that Malcolm was from a different faction of the Mackinnons than was Captain John Mackinnon. [For more details of the “real” story of how Malcolm became the owner of ®Drambuie, see the link below on the “History of Drambuie.” I am more of a fanciful nature. LOL!]




History – The Drambuie Liqueur 

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in Act of Parliament, British history, commerce, Georgian Era, kings and queens, legends and myths, real life tales, Scotland and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Drambuie: Scotland’s First Commercially Produced Liqueur

  1. Gerri Bowen says:

    So very interesting, Regina. I never heard of this . 🙂

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