As the Poet’s birthday approaches, literally hundreds of e-mails turn up in our inbox asking about the best whisky to buy for Burns’ night.
It’s far from a daft request, as the matching of the Burns’ night staple, haggis, with an appropriate whisky is not at all easy.
Whisky writers Dave Broom and Charlie Maclean both cite Talisker 10 year old as their drink of choice with the “chieft ain o’ the puddin-race”. This choice makes a lot of sense, as the peppery nature of the dram helps to accentuate the peppery seasoning of the haggis. Some can find the intense peatiness a bit much though.
We decided to come up with some of our own suggestions. So, our mouths watering, we came up with a selection of drams to wash down a bite of haggis. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like work!
We started with Glenfarclas 15 Year Old, the first whisky which springs to mind when we think of rich, sherried drams. The spices in the dish are balanced by the rich, umami character of the whisky. It’s a Scotch with a big back bone that goes beautifully with the bold flavour of the sheep’s “pluck” (heart, lungs and liver).
Haggis has a rich, savoury flavour and a touch of peat works well. The peat in Laphroaig and Ardbeg 10, however, were just a tad overpowering here – a little in your face. Ardbeg Uigeadail is far better suited, it being a generally more rounded dram. We found that the sherried element in the whisky balances well with the maltiness of the oats and the earthiness of the offal and the result is a sublime experience.
For our final pairing, we’re off to Orkney, an island which produces some excellent haggis whisky. None of it is as peaty as some of the more monstrous Islay drams; instead there is a gentle smokiness, and a maritime edge that goes wonderfully with the seasoning in the haggis. Our 12 Year Old Orkney is a blended malt and the overriding flavour is this intense honey which, when combined with the heather and gentle smoke, goes exquisitely well with “haggis, neeps and tatties”.
Robert Burns’ life influenced many, including such legends as William Wordsworth and John Steinbeck. Writing in both Scots language and English, his poetic skill established him as a pioneer of Romanticism with celebrated works such as Auld Lang Syne and A Red, Red Rose (Bob Dylan chose this song as that which most influenced his life).
We hope you have an enjoyable Burns Night, sláinte!
The Chaps at Master of Malt