Today, 25th January, is Robert Burns Day or Burns Night, a day to celebrate the life and works of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns Night celebrations can be exceptionally formal affairs, but ever since our honeymoon in Edinburgh, DTS & I have held a somewhat more informal dinner on Burns Night. It involves haggis, neeps and tatties, and – without a doubt – some whisky. Rather than go in-depth into the history or ceremony behind Burns Night, I instead wanted to do a quick investigation of how a range of different whiskies (selected by the fact that they were readily available in our drinks cabinet) accompanied such a meal.
Given the number that I was trying, and the speed at which my dinner was cooling down, my notes aren’t particularly extensive, but I was able to get a good idea of which fitted this particular bill best.
The pepperiness and chilli kick of this whisky work incredibly well alongside the spices in haggis. The peatiness adds a little something special – another dimension to the flavours of the plate.
Grant’s Ale Cask
A general excellent all-rounder alongside the meal; the flavour is good and woody, without being harsh or contrasting with the haggis. The spice of the meal somewhat masked most hints of the ale cask, but this still tasted pretty good.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Beautiful and full of flavour with excellent peaty notes and deliciously smooth. However, this also had more hints of sweetness that I think would go better as an after-dinner tipple than one to accompany the meal itself.
Whyte & Mackay The Partnership Blend (for Waitrose)
Sadly, I don’t think whisky is available any longer, although we found it to be a good standard Scotch – excellent value for money. When drunk alongside our Burns Night dinner, this was improved considerably by a drop or two of water, which opened it up, bringing out more subtle notes of wood and spice, allowing it to better complement the haggis.
Black & White
This had a stronger and more direct flavour than the others, which, even with water, seemed to distract a little from the meal. From personal experience, I know that this whisky works particularly well in a Whisky Ginger, so – next time – I think that would be the better way to enjoy B&W on Burns Night.
My favourite whisky of those that I tried with my haggis, neeps & tatties was undoubtedly the Talisker, which had the perfect combination of power of flavour, spice and savouriness to best complement the meal.
A couple of postscripts…
After dinner, DTS made me the following cocktail – a take on a Rusty Nail – was recommended to us by Jamie Stephenson, Drambuie Global Brand Ambassador.
Rusty Robbie Burns
30ml Blended Scotch (e.g. Johnnie Walker Red)
15ml Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Method: Stir well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass
Nose: Bright and refreshing, with strong notes of orange fondant.
Taste: Lighter and more refreshing than Drambuie on its own in a Rusty Nail; this is drier, thinner, but still with a distinctive flavour. A delicious drink, especially if you generally find Drambuie a bit sweet on its own. If you fancy a little extra sweetness, a piece of shortbread goes particularly well with this.
(ii) For those who prefer more gin in their cocktails (a postscript by DTS)
For those who fancy some gin to celebrate Burns Night with, I can recommend the Argyll Station Chief, which is a variation on the Berlin Station Chief*.
Argyll Station Chief
60ml Old Raj Blue**
15ml Lagavulin 16 Year Old Scotch
Pour Scotch into an ice-filled cocktail shaker.
After coating the ice with the whisky, strain the remainder into a small glass (to drink later, or give to your wife).
Add the gin, shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Strong gin flavours upfront: juniper, citrus and some herbal-floral notes, all followed by the dry, long, smoky finish of the whisky. This is strong (the gin is 50%ABV), but a good drink to have before you sit down to your Burns Night supper.