© Denzil Green
Drambuie is a golden coloured liqueur based on aged scotch whisky (Talisker brand), honey and herbs and spices. Among the flavouring, experts figure, is lemon, saffron and sugar; its colour may come from the saffron.
It is 40% alcohol.
It can be drunk on its own, straight-up or on ice, or used as a mixer in cocktails such as a Rusty Nail.
For decades, Drambuie was sold in a square brown bottle with a red cap and ribbon on its neck. In 2009, they switched to a new clear glass bottle, which is taller and thinner, for easier pouring.
The company is family owned still. The company only makes the one product, Drambuie (plus Drambuie Cream.) 16 % of sales are in the UK, as of 2010. Most sales are to America.
Drambuie was made in Broxburn, West Lothian, Scotland. In 2010, production and bottling was moved to Springburn near Glasgow, being done for them by Morrison Bowmore.
There is a version of Drambuie, Drambuie Black Ribbon, which is based on aged 15 year Scotch.
The secret recipe is passed down through the women in the family.
The company encourages the myth that Bonnie Prince Charles had the recipe for Drambuie and gave it to a Captain John MacKinnon in 1746.
It seems likely, though, that however they got it, the Mackinnon family did have the original recipe for Drambuie.
In the 1870s, a man named James Ross ran the Broadford Inn on the Isle of Skye. He got the Mackinnon family to make up batches for him to sell at the inn. Eventually, he acquired the recipe from them, which he then passed onto his son, also named James Ross. James Ross Jr modified the recipe a bit, and started making the modified recipe in 1892 for sale at the inn, and locally. He died young, but was still organized enough to get himself awarded rights to the recipe from the Patent Office in London on 24 April 1893.
Upon the death of James Ross Jr, his widow Eleanor moved to Edinburgh. At church there, she met a man named Malcolm MacKinnon, also from Skye. At the time, Malcolm MacKinnon was working for a company called “W. MacBeth & Son.” He persuaded Eleanor to sell rights to the recipe to the MacBeth company. MacBeth started making and selling it in 1909, though the first batch was only 12 cases. The liqueur was put into brown bottles, with what would become the Drambuie lozenge on it right from the start. It turned out to be a tough year in which to start the venture: Prime Minister Lloyd George increased taxes on whiskey and distilleries, so MacBeth was struggling financially.
MacKinnon decided to buy out MacBeth, and in 1914 he established The Drambuie Liqueur Company. His wife Gina (whom he married in 1915) helped to manage the business. In 1916, Drambuie became the first liqueur stocked in the House of Lords cellars, and thus the port cullis emblem on the shoulder label was added to the bottle.
- 1930 – replaced slogan “Isle of Skye Liqueur” with “Prince Charles Edward’s Liqueur”
- 1945 – Malcolm died at age 62. Family members carried on running the company. Gina and Malcolm’s son Norman MacKinnon (died 1989) also became involved
- 1960s bottled made slightly taller
- 1964 – Gina got an OBE for export achievements
- 1970s – sales are 750,000 cases a year
- 1980s – broad-based marketing began
- 1991 – tartan ribbon is replaced by a red ribbon, lozenge made larger
- 2000 – neck collar removed
- 2000 – Drambuie Cream was introduced but it wasn’t able to get market attention away from Bailey’s, so it was withdrawn in 2004.
- 2003 and 2004 – company was losing 1 million pounds a year
- 2005 – Calum MacKinnon resigned as CEO, and Phil Parnell became the first CEO from outside the family
- 2005 – the company had a large private art collection, which was sold off for 3.5 million pounds
“First up was reducing the £20m debt through a series of disposals including the company’s famous art collection for £3.5m and its Hilltown House headquarters for another £3.5m. [Chief executive Phil Parnell] said: “Hilltown House was absolutely no use as office accommodation and was very expensive to upkeep. A lot of the Jacobite Glass collection was held there, which meant we also had security personnel, curators, gardeners, painters and a whole infrastructure in place to sustain an impractical luxury which had nothing to do with either promoting or saving this brand. Then there was the London headquarters at St James’ in central London, which we were paying £60 a sq. ft for, and this was long after all big drinks makers had moved away from the square mile of Mayfair to cut costs. 
2006 – sales volumes had fallen by 40% since 1987. Drambuie’s market was literally dying off — of old age
2009 – in August the company introduced the new clear glass, taller, thinner bottle for easing pouring. Sales are 320,000 cases a year
2010 – production and bottling is moved to Springburn near Glasgow, being done for them by Morrison Bowmore
The recipe for Drambuie is passed down through the women in the family. Gina passed the recipe to Norman’s wife Mary. Mary passed it to her son Calum’s wife, Pamela.
Some say that the name “Drambuie” was coined from the Gaelic phrase, “an dram buidheach”, the “drink that satisifies”, but it also has a literal meaning, “yellow hills.”
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Bedecarre, Tom and Helen Coster. Drambuie Seeks New Drinkers. Forbes Magazine. 15 June 2009
Bradley, Jane. Morrison Bowmore seals deal to make Drambuie. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Scotsman. 28 March 2009.
Dutton, Maggie. Oh, My Darling Drambuie. Seattle Weekly. 2 October 2007.
just-drinks.com editorial team. The just-drinks interview – Drambuie. 9 July 2009. Retrieved September 2010 from http://www.just-drinks.com/article.aspx?id=97786&d=1
McCulloch, Scott. Edinburgh, Scotland: Business7 Magazine. Drambuie chief still looking for more growth. 11 September 2009.
Northrop, Alasdair. Edinburgh, Scotland: Business7 Magazine. SME300: SMEs show their strength. 19 July 2010.
Scott, Alan. Did You Know? Drambuie – An Dram Buidheach – The Drink That Satisfies. Glasgow, Scotland: Rampant Scotland. March 2002. Retrieved September 2010 from http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/bldev_knowdrambuie.htm