Scotch and Holiday Fruitcake

For this holiday season, I want to give you all a surprise gift—a recipe for delicious fruitcake with Scotch whiskey!

OK, I know the Scrooges in the bunch are going to bring up something like Johnny Carson’s famous fruitcake joke where he would say, “There really is only one fruitcake in the world, passed from family to family.” Or the historians among you may remark that ancient Egyptians would put their version of the fruitcake in the tombs of loved ones, believing they were providing food for the afterlife. There are probably dozens of stories and jokes about how bad fruitcakes can be.

I get it. My pet peeve: I don’t like candied fruit! So that takes almost all the commercial fruitcakes off my list. I won’t allow those little red chemical cherry orbs to be placed in a cocktail so why would I allow its denser cousin the candied cherry in a cake. I don’t even know what the green candy things are supposed to be, but I do not like them. Also, I object to something being called a cake when it really is two pounds of everything but cake! There is no cake for moisture molecules to congregate, so what you have is a solid dry brickbat.

I'm getting a little worked up here, so I will calm down and tell you that all is not lost. You can have your fruitcake and eat it to. Here is the rest of the story.

Some of you know that one of my favorite scotches is a 13-year-old Bunnahabhain finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. For me, this tipple is perfectly balanced, and its aromas of warm raisins, figs, cherry, apples and almonds immediately recall eating fruitcake while sitting by an open fire and watching the snow fall. And I also have fond memories like some of you, I'm sure, of warm kitchens and the smell of spices in the air and the teasing experience of dousing the fruitcake with rum or whiskey every few days and not being able to taste the cake. Mom or Grandma would say “It’s not ready yet.”

Alton Brown and the Food Network have saved the day by helping bring these delights together for us in a great fruitcake. What follows is Chef Brown’s fruitcake recipe where he has replaced all those candied thingamajigs with real sun-dried fruit. You must try this recipe.

But wait, there is more!

My wife, J’Ann, has made a couple of tweaks, one minor and one major. On the minor side she substituted fresh squeezed orange juice for the apple juice. On the major side, instead of brandy, she used the last ☹ of our Bunnahabhain, 13-year-old, Pedro Ximénez finished scotch.

Fruitcake and Bunnahabhain.jpg

More Whiskey!

Chef Brown says to check the cake every two to three days or so to see if it’s dry. J’Ann has found that here in Colorado and at 8200 feet in elevation, she needs to bathe (not spritz) the cake every three days with more whiskey, and that’s where we developed a problem. As you can see in the accompanying picture, our supply of Bunnahabhain was very low to start with. After a half-dozen days it was gone. I could not get Bunnahabhain to respond to my emails about getting an emergency resupply. What to do?

I had eleven sherry-finished scotches in my collection, but none matched the Bunnahabhain. Tomatin 12 came the closest, so that was the first emergency patch. Still in the hunt, I decided to go to my shelves containing Rocky Mountain region whiskeys and, bingo, there it was. Stranahan’s Sherry Cask was a very close match both to the nose and palate.

Stranahan’s Sherry Cask, which is mentioned in our Guidebook to Whiskey and Other Distilled Spirits in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming (p.126), is their latest innovation & expression in single malt. They say, “We take our four-year-old Rocky Mountain Single Malt and then transfer it to 500-liter Oloroso Sherry Barrels from Spain to cask finish.”


OK, they are using Oloroso Sherry barrels rather than the Pedro Ximénez barrels--but I won’t tell if you don’t. Stranahan says, “The barrels have aged sherry wine for over 40 years, leaving behind a depth of flavor soaked into the ancient oak staves.” Check their tasting notes and see if you can find a little fruitcake in them:

NOSE: Over-ripe cherry, sweet apples, raisins, almonds, leather and fresh-cut hay.

PALATE: Honey, Montmorency cherries, blackcurrant, and fig, with a nutty brine and walnut characteristics.

FINISH: Buttery caramel, whipped cream, brown sugar and smoked cayenne.

Well I’m satisfied that if you moisten your cake with this single malt you will be mighty proud of the final product. First, you have to bake your cake, and here—courtesy of Alton Brown’s “Free-Range Fruitcake Recipe” on the Food Network—are the instructions with J'Ann's modifications on how to get it done. Me, I am going to sit back and have a little fruitcake in a bottle, a Stranahan’s bottle that is. Happy Holidays to everyone!


  • 1 cup Golden raisins

  • 1 cup Currants

  • 1/2 cup Sun dried cranberries

  • 1/2 cup Sun dried blueberries

  • 1/2 cup Sun dried cherries

  • 1/2 cup Dried apricots, chopped

  • Zest of one lemon, chopped coarsely

  • Zest of one orange, chopped coarsely

  • 1/4 cup Candied ginger, chopped

  • 1 cup Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Single Malt Whiskey (or gold rum)

  • 1 cup Sugar

  • 5 ounces Unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)

  • 1 cup Fresh-squeezed orange juice (or unfiltered apple juice)

  • 4 whole Cloves, ground

  • 6 allspice Berries, ground

  • 1 teaspoon Ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon Ground ginger

  • 1-3/4 cups All-purpose flour

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Salt

  • 1 teaspoon Baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon Baking powder

  • 2 Eggs

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup Toasted pecans, broken

Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Single Malt Whiskey (or brandy of your choice) for basting and/or spritzing


1. Combine dried fruits, candied ginger and both zests. Add single-malt whiskey (or rum) and macerate overnight, or microwave for 5 minutes to re-hydrate fruit.

2. Place fruit and liquid in a non-reactive pot with the sugar, butter, orange juice (or apple juice) and spices. Bring mixture to a boil stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. (Batter can be completed up to this point, then covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before completing cake.)

3. Heat oven to 325° F.

4. Combine dry ingredients and sift into fruit mixture. Quickly bring batter together with a large wooden spoon, then stir in eggs one at a time until completely integrated, then fold in nuts. Spoon into a 10-inch non-stick loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Check for doneness by inserting toothpick into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done. If not, bake another 10 minutes, and check again.

5. Remove cake from oven and place on cooling rack or trivet. Baste or spritz top with Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Single Malt (or brandy) and allow to cool completely before turning out from pan.

6. When cake is completely cooled, seal in a tight sealing, food safe container. Every 2 to 3 days, feel the cake and if dry, spritz with single malt (or brandy). The cake's flavor will enhance considerably over the next two weeks. If you decide to give the cake as a gift, be sure to tell the recipient that they are very lucky indeed.



Manitou Springs Fruitcake Toss Event

If you can get to Manitou Springs, Colorado, this January 26, be sure and check out the great FRUITCAKE TOSS. Here is some pertinent information, but you'll only want to enter the bake-off event, because your fruitcake will be way to good to toss!

Watch hated holiday treats fly at this quirky local event. The fruitcakes will fly once again in downtown Manitou Springs! Join in for some old-fashioned tossing of those maybe not so beloved holiday desserts. There will also be a fruitcake costume competition, libations and a fruitcake bake-off!


When: January 26, 2019
Time: 1 pm - 3 pm
Where: Manitou Springs Memorial Park
Cost: One non-perishable food item is suggested for attendance. All food items will be donated to a Manitou Springs food bank. Cakes are available for rent for $1 per cake.


Hand Toss Distance
Best "Balance"
Robotic, mechanical, 3-man slingshot toss for distance

Prizes for all events will be awarded as well as an overall winner.


Although participants will be tossing the traditional cakes, there will also be a fruitcake bake-off. Local bakers will compete for the title of Fruitcake King or Queen as determined by the community. Winners will be based off who makes the best organic, non-GMO, natural fruitcakes. For more information, email


This one-of-a-kind event, where enthusiasts traveled from all over to compete for trophies and bragging rights, has been a community highlight for more than 22 years. The great fruitcake toss is the event of the winter season as the hapless dessert is launched into space with a variety of mechanical and pneumatic devices.

Howell F. Wright