As a winter warmer, the Whisky Mac has few equals. I can remember learning to ski in the harsh conditions of the Scottish Cairngorm mountains. My father would keep our spirits up with a little snifter of Whisky Mac from a hip flask. I think I may have been as young at 12 when I got a taste for this simple concoction of whisky and green ginger wine. Later, I would go shooting with my dad – we would stock our hip flasks with the stuff, and take a wee draft while waiting for the birds to come up onto the guns. There are few things more viscerally chilling than standing in a frozen turnip field in a pair of rubber wellies, holding a freezing cold gun while the beaters flush out exactly zero game. The Whisky Mac became the highlight of the day.
Now, the history of the Whisky Mac has been completely obscured by the inability of keyboard jockey historians to understand that Colonel Hector ‘Fighting Mac’ MacDonald and Colonel Sir Claude MacDonald were not the same person.
The Whisky Mac is definitely named after a Colonel Macdonald who invented it in the time of the British Raj rule over India. Specifically, it is said that the drink was invented in 1899 by Fighting Mac while he was serving in India during disturbances around the McCartney-MacDonald line. Ginger was said to ward off cholera, so the officers would neck ginger wine, eventually mixing it with a good old Scottish dram to create the Whisky Mac.
The problem with this idea is that the McCartney-Macdonald line was not associated with the family name of Hector MacDonald. Rather, it was named after the line of MacDonalds that includes Sir Claude MacDonald, serving in Peking at the same time ‘Fighting’ was in India. It was Claude who proposed the McCartney-MacDonald border line to the Chinese, and it is him whom the border is named after.
The confusion is made worse by bloggers and amateur historians posting photographs, paintings and Vanity Fair caricatures of both MacDonalds, and captioning them with the wrong name.
The Nosey Chef would like to think that Fighting Mac was the man who came up with the drink, if only for the fact he was a proper Victorian schoolboy hero. However, it is likely that the truth is far more mundane.
- 45ml Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky
- 35ml Stone's Green Ginger Wine
Stir the ingredients with ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a piece of candied ginger.
Karl Stolpstedt21/09/2020 at 7:52 pm
It sounds as warming as delicious. I know from my teenage years how it feels to be standing still waiting for game that never materializes. Sometimes in around 10 degrees Celsius below zero and in winter we occasionally drank glögg (glühwein) after the hunt. Interesting background story as well about the British officer. Unfortunately “Stone’s green ginger wine” is impossible to come across here in Sweden, as far as I know, and it won’t become any easier in the future I gather.
Nigel Eastmond23/09/2020 at 10:31 pm
Oh dear. I am sorry you cannot get ginger wine. The Whisky Mac will definitely keep the Arctic chill at bay. My abiding memory of Sweden was the price of a G&T in the Hilton in Stockholm. I nearly needed another mortgage.
All About Drinks & Cocktails That Start With The Letter W16/11/2022 at 1:13 am
[…] by a man named Colonel Macdonald, the Whiskey Mac was created at the end of the 19th century. Created during the British invasion of India, in a time […]