On Sunday the 25th of January, folk around the world will be taking part in a Burns Supper to celebrate the life and work of Robert Burns, one of Scotland’s most renowned and loved poets. Some might be very traditional, some less so, as Jake found out last year, but either way, these suppers are usually filled with three great pillars – poetry, haggis and Scotch whisky.
Basically, Burns Suppers are good fun and a great excuse (if you needed one) to enjoy some lovely whisky. If you’ve never been to one, keep reading to discover what you could be in for. If you’re hosting one, good on ya!
The reading of the Bard of Ayrshire’s poetry is a wonderful aspect of Burns Night for me, as someone who has a Creative Writing degree and studied a fair bit of poetry (university provided me with a lot of interests – I also learnt how to juggle and know more facts about hearses than you could ever imagine). Robert Burns was a stunning poet that explored a gamut of topics through his work with unrivalled wit and emotive power. Simply put, he’s a total legend.
There’s always readings of his work at a Burns Supper, the most notable of which is probably the Address to a Haggis, read while the haggis is brought to the table. Guests can also be invited to read out some of their favourite Burns poems to honour his work, which is a wonderful way to round off the evening. Here’s one of my favourites of his – a short, funny poem believed to have been written in a beautifully bound but worm-eaten volume of Shakespeare (like I said, I’m a Creative Writing graduate – of course the poem is sort of about Shakespeare).
The Book Worms
Through and through th’ inspir’d leaves,
Ye maggots, make your windings;
But O respect his lordship’s taste,
And spare his golden bindings.
If that tickled your fancy, check out some of his longer works, like Tam o’ Shanter*, To A Mouse and Auld Lang Syne, which will certainly be sung all over the world on Sunday.
As previously mentioned, there’s probably going to be haggis at every Burns Supper (well, almost every Burns Supper – haggis imports have been outlawed in the US since 1971!), which will be treated with great respect. When the cook brings it in, all must stand and Address to a Haggis will be read. The haggis is also likely to be served along with neeps and tatties, and they do go together very well indeed.
I do have a little selfish note here: as my Dad likes to say, I’m “one of those sodding vegetarians”. As such, haggis is a bit off the menu for me, considering that it’s, y’know, made of, y’know, meats. However, you can get vegetarian haggis in some speciality shops, and they’re really quite nice. So if you’re putting on a Burns Supper, do think about grabbing one of those too. Neeps and tatties are great, but they don’t make a whole meal…
Whisky plays a part in a number of Robert Burns’ poems, and it also plays a part in a Burns Supper, helping to wash down the haggis and taking part in many toasts to the Bard of Ayrshire. Working at Master of Malt, I sometimes see whiskies. Heck, I might even taste a couple everyone once in a while. Sometimes I like to think about what whiskies might be good at what time, and the following drams struck me as ones that might go down well at a Burns Supper…
Timorous Beastie – 46.8%
A cracking blended malt whisky from Douglas Laing, made with a tasty selection of Highland whiskies. It takes its name from the classic Robert Burns poem, To A Mouse, so clearly this one had to be on the list.
With bundles of Sherried spice surrounding a core of peat smoke, a flavour profile inspired by Aeneas MacDonald’s 1930s book ‘Whisky’, which suggested Glaswegians like full-bodied, full-flavoured whisky more than others, the Great King Street Glasgow Blend would be a great shout.
Aberlour a’Bunadh Batch 50 – 59.6%
An absolutely cracking, super Sherried sip, the Aberlour a’Bunadh Batch 50 is a fantastic after-dinner dram.
A single grain Scotch whisky?! Yes, and a top-notch, ginger-snap, allspice and sweet fruit fuelled beauty, at that!
Bowmore Bicentenary – 43%
One can only dream…
So if you’re having a Burns Supper this Sunday eve, enjoy the poetry, the haggis and raise a dram to the great Robert Burns!
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!
*Not Tam o’ Shatner, as I originally wrote. Top marks to Sean in the comments for spotting that belter of a typo.