Cairns Scotch Whisky Liqueur

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The Story

Liqueurs are ancient. Recipes have been found in Egyptian tombs and Greek scrolls but it was 13th Century Italian monks that perfected their medicinal use. They were usually consumed as a digestive aid or as a restorative and sometimes even given to women during childbirth.

Central to the popularity of liqueurs was the House of Medici, an influential family that held great political power in Florence at the time. Catherine De Medici became Queen of France when she married Henry II of Orléans in 1533. Her fondness for liqueurs and tonics inspired a trend in the court of France that would eventually reach the shores of Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots was born in 1542. She became Queen at just six days of age, after her father, King James V, died of an illness while fighting a campaign against the English. Mary’s mother was Mary of the House of Guise, a French noble family. When the Queen was still young, her mother took her to France to escape the squabbling of a homeland divided between catholic and protestant factions.

At just six years old, Mary was betrothed to Francis, the Dauphin of France, son of King Henry and Catherine De Medici. The two were married in 1558 and Mary became queen consort of France when her husband inherited the throne the following year. Sadly, Francis died in 1560 and the widowed Mary fell out of favour as her Mother-in-law, Catherine, turned her attentions to her youngest son, the new heir to the throne.

Mary set out to return to Scotland but was refused entry to England by Queen Elizabeth. Stubbornly, she went anyway, enduring a rough sea crossing from Calais to the Port of Leith in Edinburgh. Arriving in August 1561, the 18-year-old Mary brought many French customs with her, not least a taste for liqueurs that had been introduced to her, by her Italian mother-in-law.

The Whisky Liqueur

Cairns Scotch Whisky Liqueur is inspired by the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her preference for restorative tonics. It’s made by soaking Elderberries in Highland Heather Honey before blending with Scotch whisky. It’s bottled at 20% and retails around £26 (50cl bottle).

*Full disclosure: I was given this bottle free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the liquid and the value for money it represents.

Smell: The nose has more whisky character than I expected. Lots of honey, of course. Cereals, too. Oatcakes. Then all those berry notes. Elderberry, cranberry, blueberry.. Some nice warming spices: cinnamon, ginger.

Taste: The berries are much more prominent here. Elderberry, naturally, but also bursts of raspberry, cranberry and even Blackcurrant Ribena. Also, reminded me a little of rose-flavoured Turkish Delight at points. Lots of sweet honey and some festive spices on the finish, reminiscent of mulled wine.

Thoughts: This makes for a lovely wee sip on its own, thanks to its depth of flavour and pleasing texture but it’s also versatile enough to work in an array of different drinks and cocktails. I tried it in a straight-up highball with soda which worked well and I suspect it would go down a treat in a glass of prosecco. I also made a twist on a Negroni with 50ml Cairns liqueur, 50ml gin and 25ml vermouth which was bloody delicious.

Price: At £26, this is an interesting and useful wee bottle to have in your home bar. It offers plenty of opportunity for creativity as well as being delicious in its own right.

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