Barley bree, broo or broe, is defined in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) as “malt liquor: whisky”.
It has a distinguished pedigree. An early example in DSL comes from Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany in 1724:
“But we’ll take a soup [sip] of the barley-bree”.
And a century later Sir Walter Scott wrote in Redgauntlet:
“[Peter] reared the flagon to his head from which he withdrew it not while a single drop of the barley-broo remained”.
In The Auld Doctor and Other Poems in Scots, David Rorie’s 1994 poem Canty and Couthie references the medicinal value of whisky:
“She’s had some unco queer mishaps, Wi’ nervish wind and clean collapse, An’ naethin’ does her guid but draps, Guid draps o’ barley-bree, O!”
Of course, no Burns supper is complete without a drop. From a report in the Fifeshire Advertiser of January 1948:
“The gathering in the George Hotel was a little under two score, but it did not lack enthusiasm. The haggis was up to the mark, and so too was the barley bree … labelled twenty years old”.
Later, in the Scottish Famer of January 2021, Ken Fletcher encouraged folk to shop locally for their Burns supper:
“There’s also the opportunity in this to support your local meat counter and put on a fare that is intrinsic to the supper – Cock-a-leekie soup; haggis, neeps and tatties; and a good old steak pie. There isn’t much in there that cannot be provided for by your own industry – not forgetting the barley bree!”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.