Scotland’s traditional food and drink have been shaped by its cold and rugged terrain as well as by its fractious history with its southerly neighbor England. Its most famous beverage, Scotch whisky, even tastes of the land where it’s distilled, or so aficionados say. There’s more to Scottish imbibing than whisky, but that’s definitely where to start when learning to appreciate traditional Scottish drinks.
Scotch whisky, often referred to simply as ‘Scotch,” is regarded as one of the finest varieties of whiskey in the world. Scottish law carefully controls how Scotch may be made. First of all, all Scotch is traditionally brewed only from malted barley, although more recently wheat and rye have been allowed. Then, it must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. The result is a brown liquor with a complex bouquet and a flavor that may range from honeyed to heavily smoked. “Single malt” Scotch has been brewed exclusively from barley at a single distillery. Other Scotches may be blended. Scotch whisky has been brewed in Scotland since at least the 15th century.
Drambuie is a liqueur that has been produced commercially in the city of Edinburgh since the early 20th century by a single company. It consists of a blend of Scotch whisky, honey, herbs and spices. Drambuie is used to make the cocktail known as the Rusty Nail, as well as variations such as the Bent Nail and the Coffin Nail. It can also be served with ginger ale or on the rocks.
Beer of various styles has been brewed in Scotland since prehistoric times, but Scottish or Scotch ale as a style of beer originated in the 18th century in Edinburgh. It is a dark, sweet, malty brew that is light on hops and often has a strong smoky note. The Scottish ale style is no longer confined within the borders of the country; brewers in Belgium and the U.S. have adopted the style as well.
Irn Bru is the brand name of a caffeinated orange soda that outsells Coca-Cola and all other competitors within the borders of Scotland. In fact, Irn Bru is so popular it’s been called “Scotland’s Other National Drink,” and is sometimes touted as a morning cure for the hangover caused by imbibing in Scotch whisky the night before. The soft drink debuted in 1901 under the label “Iron Brew”; the phonetic spelling of the name was adopted in 1947. As is the case with Coca-Cola, its exact formula remains a closely guarded secret.
References and ResourcesEsquire: How to Drink...Scotch
The Scotch Whisky Experience: The Origin of Scotch
Beer Advocate: Scottish Ale
All About Beer: Scottish Ale
NPR: It's Not Whisky, But Everyone in Scotland Drinks It by the Bottle
The Guardian: Scotland's Other National Drink
The Guardian: We Look at the History of Scotland's Other National Drink
A Brief History of Scottish Brewing