Burns Night, 25 January, is a highlight of the Scottish social calendar, a time when any Scot worthy of their tartan troosers will gather to celebrate the birthday of their most revered national poet, Robert Burns.
The night’s supper celebrations follow a scripted order, passed down through generations of literature-loving Scots – the main thrust of it being poetry recitals and haggis-eating, interspersed with various boozy toasts. The evening ends with a giant, chaotic ceilidh, which may or may not include bagpiping.
Single malt whisky is the toasting tipple of choice, especially during the ceremonial slicing of the haggis, but the evening's boozy proceedings present a great opportunity to explore other fine beverages that Scotland has to offer.
Here are some top-notch Scottish offerings to sup in honour of Rabbie. Get yer wee chapsies round these, me lairds and lassies....
1. Strathearn Cider Brandy, 47%: £39.95 for 50cl, Drinkmonger
A meeting of the clans. An acclaimed Scottish brewer, Thistly Cross, supplied the cider and the folks at Strathearn distilled and casked it in oak to make a rousing Scottish cider brandy tasting of vanilla, gorse flowers and orchards. You’ll have to be quick if you want to snare a bottle, as the initial batch only ran to 200. This bonny booze is rarer than a Balmoral grouse.
2. Drambuie, 40%: £20 for 70cl, Morrisons
Perhaps the most famous of all Scottish liqueurs, Drambuie is a heady mix of aged scotch whisky with smooth heather honey and warming spices. It's most commonly found waltzing with a whisky accompaniment in the sporran-rousing Rusty Nail cocktail but its complex, herbal flavours work just as well poured neat over ice. Sláinte.
3. Atholl Brose, 35%: £21.95 for 50cl, The Whisky Exchange
Inspired by a traditional Highland recipe, this ambrosial, golden liqueur uses Speyside single malt as a base. Honied notes of gingerbread, lavender and cinnamon skip on the tongue, and the addition of oatmeal gives it a velvety smooth mouthfeel. It’s the perfect fireside sipper and hip flask filler, and will soothe the lips of the most fervent bagpipe player.
4. Dark Matter Spiced Rum, 40%: £32.49 for 70cl, Drink Supermarket
Scotland may not have much in common with the Caribbean but, as of 2015, both can claim authentic rum distilleries. Dark Matter is a molasses-based rum, distilled in Aberdeenshire and powerfully spiced, delivering gingery, peppery heat with some fruity cinnamon and allspice notes. Great served on its own or tamed with ginger beer or cola, its natural warmth means a Caribbean climate is definitely not required.
5. Highland Wineries Silver Birch Wine, 13.5%: £8.29 for 75cl, Highland Wineries
According to Queen Victoria, silver birch wine was Prince Albert’s booze of choice – he would often sup it after a hard day's monarching amongst the glens of their Deeside estate. Made using sap tapped from the birch tree, this medium-dry, grape-shy booze is light, crisp and moreish. A good post-pudding pick-me-up.
6. The Botanist Gin, 46%: £30.95 per 70cl bottle, 31DOVER
For a taste of wild Scotland, whisk your taste buds over to a glass of The Botanist’s dry gin. It’s a magical, mystical creation containing 22 botanicals hand-plucked from the Islay landscape and lovingly distilled along with classic gin ingredients. Cool floral flavours drift among fresh citrus notes while hints of spice punctuate its smooth texture. The only downside? G&T lovers may struggle to find a tonic good enough to pair it with.
7. Bruadar, 22%: £19.45 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
This is a highly sippable Perthshire liqueur. The addition of sloes brings a tart hedgerow fruitiness to proceedings while the honey mellows the single malt burn. At 22 per cent it’s relatively forgiving for a whisky-based liqueur, but a wee dram or two of this will calm any pre-ceilidh nerves and will add height and panache to any attempted Highland fling.
8. Edinburgh Gin Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur, 20%: £16.96 for 50cl, 31DOVER
When we heard that Edinburgh’s ace boozologists had been tinkering with rhubarb, our ears pricked up. The pink vegetable-that-thinks-it’s-a-fruit is one of the finest ingredients you can plunge into alcohol and the Scottish distiller has given it the ultimate accolade by infusing it in its excellent craft gin. Also invited to the party is ginger, lending some subtle warmth to the delicate rhubarb tartness, while still allowing the gin’s spicy juniper flavours to make their presence known. A beautiful balancing act that makes for an exceptional liqueur.
9. Ogilvy Potato Vodka, 40%: £34.95 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
The ‘Ploughman Poet’ would heartily approve of this creamy, earth-borne vodka. Tatties grown on farmland a short tractor ride from Glamis Castle are minced and mashed before being ushered through the hubble and bubble of Ogilvy’s column pot still. The result is a rich, warming, spud-tastic booze with hints of citrus and a long, mellow, pepper-flecked finish.
10. Traquair Jacobite Ale, 8%: £3.59 for 330ml, Beers of Europe
According to one Robbie Burns poem, “Good ale makes me sell my hose/Sell my hose, and pawn my shoes” – in which case there’s every chance he surrendered his socks (hose) for a beer like this. Based on an 18th century recipe, and brewed to celebrate the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, it’s a strong, spiced ale – full of fruity flavours with a vinous quality and shades of coriander. A very good ale indeed.
The Verdict: Scottish drinks for Burns Night
Wrestle the bagpipes and stab that haggis, Strathearn Cider brandy is a glorious Scottish booze that deserves to be head of table at any Burns Night supper. Let's hope they crank up production.
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