Scotland’s national poet is Robert Burns (1759-1796). He was a poet and lyricist who wrote in both Scottish Gaelic and English. A Scottish cultural icon, his poems are the foundation of Scottish national identity. Among his many compositions are A red, red rose, Tam O’Shanter and of course, Address to a Haggis.
The Robbie Burns dinner tradition began five years after his death when a group of his devoted friends hosted a dinner to celebrate his life and work. The tradition spread and usually took place on or around his birthday, January 25. This date, often referred to as Robert Burns Day, has become Scotland’s unofficial national holiday. In fact, it is more widely celebrated in Scotland than the official national observance of St Andrew’s Day.
At the heart of the celebration is the Burns Supper or Burns Night, a traditional Scottish dinner usually accompanied by many speeches, recitals of Burns poetry and, of course, many toasts accompanied by drams of the Golden Elixir of Scotland.
The traditional Burns Supper begins with a dish of soup. This is usually a classic Scottish soup such as Scotch Stock, Potato Soup, Cullen Skink (a thick Scottish soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions) or Cock -a-leekie (a soup dish consisting of leeks and chicken broth with pepper).
The highlight of the dinner is the serving of haggis – a traditional Scottish pudding consisting of the heart, liver and lungs of a diced mutton with onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, which was cooked in the stomach of a sheep.
Traditionally, dinner is held when the haggis is brought by the cook. A piper then “pipes” into the haggis as the cook presents it to the host. A distinguished guest or the host then recites Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis. At the end of the recital, a whiskey toast is proposed, the first of a long series that will enhance the evening.
After the coffee, the guests raise a toast to the memory of Robert Burns, punctuated by recitations of his poems. Traditionally, the evening ended when a male guest gave a “girls address”, ostensibly to thank and toast the women present for preparing the meal, but was often used as an opportunity for the speaker to make his point. view of women.
This toast was followed by a ‘Toast to the Laddies’, an opportunity for a guest to give her perspective on men and respond to one of the specific points raised by the previous speaker. The evening would end with additional recitations of poems and songs by Burns culminating in a group chant of Auld Lange Syne.
It’s understandable that you skip the haggis right away. No surprise, it’s definitely an acquired taste. Probably a good idea to also skip the “Speech to the Lassies” and the “Speech to the Laddies”. These days, both speeches could run counter to political correctness. So better go straight to the whiskeys!
Which whiskeys to drink on Burns Night? Any Scotch whiskey will do, although if you want to be historically accurate look for single malts, cask strength offerings, ideally those that have been aged in Sherry casks and included peated malt in their mash bills.
Neither blended whiskey nor vatted malts existed in 1796. Blended whiskey was not legalized until William Gladstone, Exchequer Secretary, Palmerston/Peel government introduced the Spirits Act of 1865. Whiskey was serious business in the middle of the 19th century in Great Britain. . About a third of government tax revenue in 1870 came from taxes on the manufacture or sale of liquor.
In Robert Burns’ time, the only whiskey available would have been single malt Scotch whiskey, almost all of which would have been bootlegged. The exception would have been a few Lowland distilleries, most of which would have been undrinkable anyway. It was not until the enactment of the excise tax in 1823 that the legal and widespread production of Scotch whiskey came into being.
Scotch was bottled at cask strength until World War I. The UK government has reduced bottling proof to 40% ABV/80 proof to reduce drunkenness among ordnance workers after their lunch or dinner breaks.
The whiskey that would have been served at the first and subsequent Robbie Burns dinners in the 19th century would have been peated, cask-strength, and probably matured, if necessary, in an ex-Sherry cask.
There aren’t many options that meet all three criteria, but several do, and there are a few others that come close.
The Campbeltown area is a good place to start if you’re looking for a style of single malt Scotch whiskey that Robert Burns would have found familiar.
A classic choice is Glen Scotia Victoriana. This is a lightly peated cask strength expression, 30% of which is finished in Pedro Ximénez (PX) Sherry casks. PX Sherry is produced from lightly raisined grapes and imparts strong flavors of raisin and dried fig.
It is called Victoriana because it imitates the style of whiskey that prevailed in Scotland during the reign of Queen Victoria. Glen Scotia Victoriana is probably the closest thing to a style of Scotch whiskey that Robert Burns would have recognized and appreciated. If you’re planning a Burns dinner, Victoriana is your go-to for Scotch whisky.
Also try the Glen Scotia Double Cask, single malt whiskey. It is bottled at 40% ABV and has undergone a double maturation in bourbon bottles and in PX Sherry casks. Both expressions offer notes of salted caramel, butterscotch, sweetness, dried fruit flavors of raisin, date and fig, finishing with a sherry finish.
Springbank whiskey expressions are also a good match. Springbank is Glen Scotia’s neighbor in Campbeltown. Their whiskeys usually include a portion of peated malt in a style very reminiscent of 19th century Scotch whisky. Try, in particular, the Springbank, Cask Strength 12 years or the Springbank 18 years old. Both offer a sweetness surrounded by pronounced smoky peaty notes, a style that would have been very recognizable to Robert Burns.
Loch Lomond offers three whiskeys that will fit perfectly into any Robert Burns dinner party. the Loch Lomond 12 years and the Loch Lomond Inchmoan 12 years offers a honeyed and fruity style complemented by a soft smoke and warm spices. The perfect whiskeys for a Burns Dinner toast. the Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 12 years is exceptionally fruity, with hints of peach and apricot, but lacks the smoky notes of the other two whiskies. All three would, however, pair very well with the typical Burns dinner menu.
Benriach has a peaty expression in cask that also recalls a historic Speyside whiskey style. There is also the Benriach smoked 12. It is bottled at 46% and finished in a combination of Sherry and Marsala casks.
Benromach has a lightly peated cask strength expression, part of which is matured in Sherry casks. It is also reminiscent of a classic Speyside style of whiskey from the late 19th to mid 20th century. Also try the recently released Benromach 21 years old. At 43% alcohol, it’s not quite cask strength and it’s aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks, but it’s a pretty good facsimile of a style of whiskey that Burns, and later his friends, would have drunk.
To consider Aberlour A’bunadh. This whiskey is not peated, but is bottled at cask strength, usually around 60% ABV, more or less, and is fully aged in a Sherry cask. It’s a style of Scotch whiskey that 19th century attendees to a Burns Supper would also find quite familiar.
Signatory has cask strength, Sherry matured Glenlivet. This expression is without turn.
Other possibilities include the Laphroaig Cask Strength 10 YO, a heavily peated classic Islay whiskey that graced many Burns’ Dinner tables. the Ben Nevis The 10 year old cask strength has a similar pedigree. the Glengoyne Cask Strength is another popular choice among plains Scotch whiskies. The Ben Nevis and Glengoyne are lightly peaty, and both cask strength expressions get some Sherry cask maturation.
Want to know more about the history of Burns Night? The Whiskey Exchange, the world’s largest online retailer of Scotch whiskey, plans to entertain whiskey lovers this Burns Night with a Burns Night tasting set and an interactive virtual whiskey quiz. The tasting set costs around $40 and comes with a link to the online quiz.
Hosted by The Whiskey Exchange store managers Alex Huskinson and Chris Bolton. Prizes include Whiskey Show tickets (worth approximately $300), special bottlings and a Robert Burns gift set courtesy of the Arran Distillery.
Do you really want to celebrate Burns Night? Consider signing up for burns distilled, On Tuesday, January 25, 2022 (7:00 PM – 8:30 PM EST), hosted by acclaimed artist Burns, Brave Heart actor and whiskey veteran, Andrew Weir. Accompanied by some of Broadway’s finest musicians and a host of guest performers and whiskey personalities, burns distilled invites guests to discover and pay homage to the famous poet Robert Burns from the comfort of their own home during this one-of-a-kind virtual Burns Night dinner party.
There are two ticket options to participate in the burns distilled virtual home experiences:
Broadcast ticket ($24.50): Includes all household access to the full Burns Distilled virtual event via a one-time passcode; ability to participate in and enjoy all of the interactive components of the event; an at-home Burns Supper experience pack delivered via digital download.
Full Experience + Tasting Ticket ($79.50): Includes all access to streaming tickets; 1 Burns Supper in a Box (4 Scotch samples including Laphroiag, Arran and others, to accompany tastings led by ambassadors throughout the event, 1 Glencairn highball glass, 1 Book of Burns, 1 Haggis Chips, 1 Cookie, memorial arts program and more!You must be 21 or older to join.Buy by Wednesday, January 19 using Haggis code 10 to receive 10% off.