The Keeper of the Atholl Brose

by Ian M. Ross, January, 2009 


Atholl Brose is consumed at any number of events worldwide, but the St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg has the distinction of being the only group in the world (to my knowledge) to have developed a formal ceremony of it and appointed a responsible officer … the Keeper of the Atholl Brose … complete with a badge of office, an ornate piece of regalia worn round the Keeper’s neck like a Lord Mayor’s chain. In effect, the Society has created a “Scottish tradition” out of thin air!


The following brief history was compiled from recent telephone interviews with Society members Ed Campbell, Eldon Ross and Rod McRae, who were part of the small group instrumental in this tradition’s creation. Information was also gleaned from name-plate engravings on the position’s badge of office and from Dr. Thomas Saunders’ book “A Proud Heritage”, being a history of the Society. As we all grow older our memories can play tricks with us, so there may be inadvertent errors in this account. Readers with additional factual information are encouraged to come forward with their corrections.

 

The tradition developed along with the Society’s annual Highland Ball, which started in the latter 1960s. According to Dr, Saunders’ book, one of the features of this ball has always been the liqueur served at the conclusion of the dinner … Atholl Brose. Dr. Ian M. Grant, Society President 1968-69 (now deceased), was the first to provide a formula for this mystical elixir, ensuring that it was properly concocted by Society members and served out in specially labeled bottles.

 

These labels outlined one legend (there are several) of how, in 1475, the Chief of Clan Murray (at that time Earl, and now Duke, of Atholl) used a mixture of honey, whisky and oatmeal to capture the rebellious Earl of Ross (Lord of the Isles and Chief of Clan Ross) who was hiding in the hills. He poured it into a well from which The Ross habitually drank. Enchanted by the delicious nectar, The Ross dallied too long at the well and was taken prisoner.

 

According to the original name-plates on the badge of office, Dr. Grant fulfilled this responsibility for four years. He was followed by George R. S. Inkster, Society President 1984-85 (now deceased), for ten years and then by F. E. “Ed” Campbell (now an Honorary Life Member) for two years. Unfortunately, the name-plates didn’t say exactly which years those were! However, my telephone interviews with Eldon Ross and Rod McRae confirmed that Rod followed Ed in the position, starting in 1990 … so Ed Campbell’s two years had to be 1988 and 1989. When I interviewed Ed Campbell he felt that sounded correct, and he definitely confirmed that he followed Inkster who followed Grant. If the badge data is correct, that would put Dr. Grant starting this formal service of the Atholl Brose about 1974, a few years after the start of the ball.

 

Dr. Saunders’ book contains a delightful photo of that era showing Society members Allister McDiarmid, George Inkster, Andrew Tough, Dr. W. Goodall and Robert Bruce pouring the Atholl Brose ingredients into a large mixing vat, with a great number of labeled bottles waiting to be filled. These manufacturing sessions, though informal, were very serious events inasmuch as all participants were anxious that the brose be properly made. This, of course, required frequent tastings to ensure quality control. 



The book goes on to say “Because the supply is limited, guests at the St. Andrew’s Ball seldom suffer a fate similar to that of the Lord of the Isles. They may dally over the Atholl Brose and enjoy it, as he did, but the only persons to whom they fall captive are the lovely ladies with whom they are destined to dance.” This speaks well of the capacity of the stalwart members of the Society of that time, as some senior members of today recall that there could be two, three or more full 26-oz bottles at each table!   



In 1990, Eldon M. Ross, Society President 1994-95 (now an Honorary Life Member), formally established the position of Keeper of the Atholl Brose through his donation of a marvelous badge of office. This badge consists of a band of Modern Red Ross tartan worn round the neck to support a traditional Scottish silver quaich. On the bottom of the quaich is engraved the year it was donated. In the bowl is engraved the following chorus from Robert Burns’ poem “Willie Brewed a Peck o’ Maut”:


                                    We are na fou, we’re nae that fou,

                                                But just a drappie in our e’e!

                                    The cock may craw, the day may daw,

                                                And ay we’ll taste the barley-bree!

 

Fastened to the tartan band are the following silver name-plates commemorating those who served as (or supported the function of) the Keeper of the Atholl Brose. The first two are original, and the remainder were updated or added by the author in 2008:

 

DR. IAN GRANT

4 YRS.


G.R. (GEO) INKSTER

10 YRS.

 

F.E. (ED) CAMPBELL

1988-89

 

ELDON M. ROSS

donates regalia 1990

 


R.J. (ROD) McRAE

1990-94

 

L.G. (LES) ARCHIBALD

Presenter mid-90s