Read the introduction of this series here. Written by whisky expert and EBS course creator Ludo Ducrocq.
The Scots have never needed an excuse to enjoy a dram. But they have certainly perfected the art of finding reasons to celebrate their national drink. Life events are of course perfect opportunities for a whisky. From wetting a baby’s head to mark the arrival of a newborn to the parting glass; every occasion seems to call for a whisky.
There are also numerous local and national celebrations throughout the year which are better spent with a glass in hand. These range from the smallest Highland games to Scotland’s national day – Saint Andrew’s Day. Luckily for me, I was born on Saint Andrew’s Day so I have double the reason to open a decent bottle in November. Then there are fairly new inventions in the form of annual “whisky days”. In fact, there are two International / World Whisky Days in the year. Well, why not?!
1. Burns Night (25th January)
First up in the calendar year is Burns Night. January 25th is the birthday of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns who left his mark on the country in the 18th century, writing many famous poems including Auld Lang Syne and of course Address to a Haggis.
A lifetime ago, I studied Scottish literature and a little bit of Scots dialect at Glasgow uni, yet I still struggle to understand all of his work. A good place to start if you’re not fluent in old Lowland Scot and keen to learn more about his poems is to watch the Address to a Haggis on YouTube. Every presenter has their own unique style and I am sure you will find a recital you enjoy and half understand!
Anecdotally for the whisky lovers among you, Burns was an exciseman for a short while, and I guess he would have been involved with chasing illicit distillers during his career.
Nevertheless, Burns Night is a celebration of all the things Robert liked about Scotland. Good food, company, whisky and of course poetry.
If you’re ever in Scotland when it is safe to travel again, I would recommend visiting the house where Burns was born in Ayrshire. There’s a fantastic museum, and whilst you’re in that part of Scotland, why not pay a visit to A.D. Rattray’s whisky shop in Maybole? They have a really friendly and knowledgeable team, the shop is well-stocked, nicely decorated and they can organise tutored tastings. Well worth a visit.
2. Online events
Obviously, this year will be a little different in many countries and I am not sure how many live events will be taking place near you. Fortunately, many events have gone digital. At the time of writing, there are tickets left for the following events, which of course all involve a whisky or 6:
To be fair, these events are mainly whisky tastings happening around Burns Night. I did say the Scots are experts at finding reasons to celebrate whisky. However, there are plenty more options a Google search away.
3. Paired with haggis
Another great way to enjoy whisky is paired with hearty Scottish haggis. Cooking haggis at home couldn’t be simpler. There are instructions here if needed. Most people would recommend pouring whisky on top of your haggis. I have never understood that one – I like both whisky and haggis but not on the same plate. If you’re tempted, I would recommend trying a little before emptying your whole glass of great whisky on warm, rich haggis.
On that note, my whisky of choice to accompany haggis (on the side) tends to be slightly richer, spicier whiskies; probably a single malt with a noticeable amount of sherry-cask influence such as Glenfiddich Solera or Glenmorangie Lasanta, both perfect for the occasion.
As far as cocktails go, EBS’ Head of Education was quick to remind me of Bobby Burns. History and recipes for this cocktail can be found here. Thank you Gavin, I will give it a try this year.
That’s all for this month. I’ll return in February, hopefully with good news regarding the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.