How to celebrate Burns Night 2021 at home – wherever you are in the world
Proper haggis? Tinned haggis? Forget the haggis and try my Highland stew? But whatever you eat, you definitely need some Scotch whisky for 25 January
I may not have an ounce of Scottish blood in me, but I’m always up for a good knees up, especially one that involves whisky.
Burns Night is on 25 January, and is the birthday celebration of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns. While the night usually involves lavish parties, dinners, drinks and celebrations, including lots of Highland dancing after one too many drams, of course things will be looking a bit different this year. However, that doesn't mean you can't summon your inner Scotsperson and have some serious fun.
Who was Robert Burns?
Robert Burns was a Scottish writer and poet born in 1759. His poems centred around the Scottish experience, culture, classic culture, and religion. And whether you're a poetry fan or not, surely you've heard Auld Lang Syne once or twice on New Year's Eve, which is Burns' most famous work.
He died in 1796 aged just 37, and the traditional Burns Night Supper celebrations began just a few years after, so friends and acquaintances could honour his memory.
What do you eat on Burns Night?
Smoked fish soup, haggis, and neeps and tatties, with plenty of Scotch to wash it down with.
Traditionally, haggis is made from a pretty full-on combination of sheep's pluck (mix of heart, liver and lungs), onion, oats, suet, spices, salt and stock, all cooked inside a sheep's stomach. However, today, haggis is increasingly made with an artificial casing, with no stomach in sight. There's even vegetarian and vegan options, or as James May discovered, tinned haggis...
Neeps and tatties are swede and/or turnip (neeps) and potatoes (tatties) mashed, sometimes together, sometimes separately.
But hold those horses, you can't just tuck into the haggis. First, it's usually (bag)piped into the room, and then must be addressed with a ceremonial reading of Burns' poem, aptly named... 'Address to the haggis'. Here's a video of a very enthusiastic reading at a private dinner at Edinburgh Castle for some inspiration.
What can I eat if I don't like haggis?
While many people will be tucking into the haggis this Burns Night, you may want an alternative dish to devour while you’re mumbling your way through Auld Lang Syne after one dram too many.
I won’t commit the mortal sin of calling this a pie when it’s a stew with a puff pastry top, that’s for the gastro pubs of this world to do. But it is a very tasty Highland stew with puff pastry top, and is the perfect dish to serve this Burns Night.
Ok, onto the important stuff. What should I drink on Burns Night?
Whisky, whisky, and some more whisky. This is your chance to tuck into some delicious Scotch. If you need some inspiration, I've got a few suggestions for you...
A bit of everything: Regions of Scotland Tasting Set from Drinks by the Dram
If you're new or relatively new to the world of Scotch whisky, how about trying something from all five Scotch regions in one? This set of five 3cl drams includes a peaty, smoky Islay whisky; something more fruity and malty from the Highlands; a soft, floral dram from the Lowlands; a honeyed, often Sherried Speyside whisky; and a dram from Campbeltown, where the whiskies are usually dry, quite strong, and have a coastal character to them. It's a great way to see what you like, and then you can go on a big Scotch spending spree.
Something rather special: Glentauchers 44yo (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)
If you like your whiskies rare and limited-edition, this is the one. Glentauchers distillery is a Speyside Scottish whisky distillery, founded in 1897. Malts from this distillery are rarely bottled, and usually, the whisky made there is used in blended whiskies, but this is a bit of an exception. According to the very wise Boutique-y Dave, aka Dave Worthington, aka global brand ambassador for That Boutique-y Whisky Company, this is the oldest bottling of Glentauchers. I'll be reporting back on how this tastes next week, as I've managed to get hold of a whole 3cl of it... There's only 201 bottles available, so you'll need to get in quick.
Something that's smokin': Lagavulin 16
This is the benchmark for Islay whiskies. It’s got that mega-peaty smokiness you expect from an Islay whisky, but a lovely richness too… and some sweetness, saltiness, and spiciness. OK there’s a lot going on. This is a tipple that’s loved by people getting into whisky, and whisky connoisseurs. If you’re looking for a food pairing, it’s recommended you sip it with some salty blue cheese. Is your mouth watering too? Islay is a Scottish island that’s characterised by peat and bogs. The Lagavulin distillery has been in Lagavulin Bay since 1816. All the water needed to produce the whisky is drawn from the peaty Solan Lochs above the bay – giving it its distinctive peaty note during the 16 year aging process and its production.
Something I really love: Longrow 18 year old
This is an absolute delight. Just so, so good. It’s not the easiest to get your hands on, as there are only 4,800 bottles produced each year (46% abv). It’s from the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown. So why Longrow, we hear you cry? Well, Longrow started out as an experiment to make a peated whisky in Campbeltown – and then the whiskies were so good, they've grown and grown in popularity. The Longrow 18 is a double-distilled, heavily peated single malt. It’s matured in two types of barrel: 75% sherry casks and 25% bourbon casks. Can’t recommend more highly.
Something that's iconic, and accessible: Johnnie Walker Black Label
Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky is a complex blended Scotch that is surprisingly affordable for the taste. Its iconic square bottle makes it one of the world's most recognisable Scotch whiskies. Born in 1909, Black Label is a blend of around 40 whiskies (crazy stuff) with a distinctive mellow smoky note. This blended Scotch bears a 12-year age statement, meaning that the youngest of the many whiskies contributing to this blend must be at least 12 years old. This bottle is a lot of people’s way in to the world of whisky.
That should hopefully do you for starters... if you need any more inspiration or recommendations, just ask. And I hope you have a great Burns Night!