Its scenery is not stupendous- scarcely even anywhere bold; but it is ‘beautiful exceedingly’. Its boundaries are not mountains, but hills of sufficient elevation to form a picturesque and striking outline. The hill-sides, which in some places rise abruptly from the water, and which in others, slope more gently, are covered to a considerable elevation with wood; and the lake is adorned with twenty-three islands, almost every one of them finely wooded…The extent of Loch Gilly is highly favourable to its beauty.Mr. Inglis, The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, 1841
Not much has changed around Lough Gill since Mr. Inglis made his visit to the area well over a hundred and fifty years ago. The gentle sloping hillsides and densely wooded islands still create an absolutely stunning bit of landscape tucked away in Co. Sligo. We can catch a glimpse of it from earlier times in the above image from Snapshots of the Past, taken around 1900. But whilst the view is spectacular, we haven’t wandered over just for a gander at the water; we are here for the beer, as they say.
Near to the shores of this lake was a ‘house of public resort’, which Mr. Inglis tells us was quite popular, especially on Sundays. And what was it that drew both locals and visitors alike to this venue in large numbers? Well apparently, they came here to drink their favourite beverage, ‘called scolteen; composed of the following elegant ingredients- whiskey, eggs, sugar, butter, caraway-seeds, and beer’. And so it is scolteen that we will be making today.
I came across Mr. Inglis’ account in The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, written circa 1841 by J. Stirling Coyne and N.P. Willis. There are multiple volumes of work and you can find our scolteen in Volume II here.
Of course, this was not the only mention of scolteen in the annals of the 19th century. Born in 1796 in Cork, Isabella Travers Steward, wrote many works; including an 1840 book called The Interdict: A Novel, which features our drink of choice and sheds a bit more light on how it might have been served.
In Chapter Five, we are introduced to the wonders of ‘Shamus Brady’s public, and the tempting savour of scolteen, well mixed and screeching hot’. So now we know that scolteen is a heated drink.
I think I might have picked the perfect time of year to recreate a ‘screeching hot’ drink. It pairs so very well with the soaring temperatures. /s
Snarky comments aside, my grandfather always did drink hot tea in the middle of summer because he wanted to ‘make his insides, match his outsides’ which is actually a thing.
So I’ll put this to the test. For science.
Steward put an asterisk next to this drink, alerting us that many of her readers may not be quite familiar with it and she further defined it as, ‘a brewing of beer and whiskey, flavoured with butter, eggs, sugar, &c’. Well in line with Mr. Inglis’ definition.
I think this provides a good basis to create some kind of recipe, as I haven’t yet came across one in my book research thus far; though I have found approximately 10,000 ones for gooseberry wine, if anyone is keen.
So time to wing it!
Given the inclusion of eggs, butter, and sugar, I decided to make it like one of many hot ale drinks I have made in the past, plus a whiskey topper. In fact, I based my recipe on the 16th-century butter beer I made last December.
My recipe was as follows:
- In a saucepan or small pot, on medium heat, take one pint of beer and add two egg yolks and blend well with a whisk.
- For the butter beer, I ended up using about 76 grams of sugar per pint or thereabouts, so I opted to do the same here. Add this to your blended beer and egg mixture.
- Add in a pinch of caraway-seeds, not a lot as they can overwhelm the flavour.
- Mix everything together and heat until just below boiling. If it boils it can get very messy, very fast so keep a close eye on it.
- Add the butter. How much? Well, I used about the same amount as sugar, so 75 grams. Let that melt into the mix.
- Heat it through thoroughly. I let it cook for about 3-5 mins to make sure everything was blended well.
- Use two pots and pour back and forth between them, which makes it nice and frothy- you can omit this step if you want and just whisk again.
- Pour into a glass and add your whiskey. I added a half shot, but a full shot would also be fine.
Now of course I generally do not name the beer that I use when I make these historical recipes for many reasons, mostly because if it turns out terrible I want to take the blame and not the beer. However, because this was literally about a drink made at a resort on Lough Gill, I wanted to use beer from the Lough Gill brewery. I opted for their Watt Extra Special Bitter (ESB) which they sell at Aldi and I paired this with Tullamore Dew Whiskey. I also think this would work well with a mild, stout or porter.
First impression was that it was very creamy, rich and buttery, as expected from the recipe. The caraway seeds and their anise/licorice flavour melded pleasantly with the earthy and spicy hops. This in turn plays well with the fruity notes and vanilla undertones in the whiskey. The whiskey also helps cut through some of that sweet creaminess from the eggs, sugar and butter. And its fruity notes and alcohol warmth add a nice finish to the drink. The bitterness of the ESB also helps to balance the sweeter elements, and create a well rounded, complex drink.
10/10 would absolutely make again. Loved it. It was a gorgeous, creamy, malty, slightly bitter, and spicy drink- perfect for winter.
As for the cooling aspects, well, I didn’t exactly hit the proper conditions mentioned in the linked articles-too humid- so it didn’t quite work for me. Alas, yet again I am a disappointment to the family. Sigh.