Burns Night will soon be upon us, which is surely a good excuse for a drink. But were the Scottish poet to be loitering at the bar in 2018, he might well disown the modern birthday celebrations since, quite aside from any discordant bagpipe drone, such soirées fall considerably short of his hedonistic standards.
“Rabbie” Burns lived life hard and fast, guzzling everything from rum, brandy and ale to claret and port, fuelling an epic creative yield.
Once he’d had his fill, he would ignite plenty of other passions at the party… if he’s not the antithesis of some of the more staid events we hold today, he’s not far off.
That said, perhaps don’t attempt to mimic him if you’re enjoying your own Burns Night, not least because the poet would not approve of bad behaviour.
Burns was a drinker but not a drunk. Our motto is drink less, but better.
So rather than match the man, we suggest an alternative approach: don’t just reach for the whisky; instead, explore some of Scotland’s other drinks.
These are glorious days of drinking in Scotland, whether you like a G&T or a beer. The Scots even make rum, with the Dark Matter Distillery using British molasses to create its Dark Matter Spiced Rum (£34, masterofmalt.com). With a natural spiced taste, this is a welcome addition to the category and showcases an intense burst of ginger and peppercorn.
Vodka has also emerged here, with Ogilvy potato vodka (£34.95, whiskyexchange.com) made in Angus by the Jarron family, who use home-grown Maris Piper potatoes and freshwater from the nearby Ogilvy.
To add to the eclectic native mix, cocktail enthusiasts have been delighted by the artisan Dr Elmegirab’s bitters (£11.03, masterofmalt.com), ideal for making a Burns Night cocktail.
But had the scribe been looking for literary inspiration in 2016, he would have turned to gin. Hendrick’s is the obvious commercial success story, but visit Edinburgh and bartenders will suggest you sample the smaller-batch Edinburgh Gin (£30, Telegraph Wine from Waitrose), distilled in the city with plenty of pine and lavender on the nose with a clear zesty citrus.
New producers are foraging for their own botanicals with the excellent Caorunn gin (£27, Telegraph Wine from Waitrose), including Highlands heather, bog myrtle, dandelions and Coul Blush apple, a mix that makes it excellent for G&Ts. Off the mainland, Bruichladdich on Islay is turning heads and tongues with The Botanist Gin (£33.45, whiskyexchange.com).
A wee rummage across the island has seen them unearth apple mint, birch leaves, sweet camomile and heather flowers, along with mugwort and meadowsweet, balancing the more traditional juniper angelical and coriander. The result is complex, prickling the palate with all manner of citrus, floral and spicy surprises.
Away from spirits, beer too is enjoying a renaissance, fuelled by the alumni of Heriot-Watt University. Besides Brewdog, the ale-making iconoclasts from Aberdeen, there are about 100 brewers scattered throughout Scotland. No hops grow there, so the folk at Tempest Brewing – a brilliant brewery in the Borders – hail Kiwi hops instead in Long White Cloud (5.6%), a perfectly put together pale ale flush with fresh tropical fruit (£2, 330ml, tempestbrewco.com).
One beer that can handle a haggis is the robust Red Rocker (5%, £2.99, 330ml, scottishbeershop.co.uk), brewed in the Highlands by The Cromarty Brewing Company, using rye and dry-hopped with American hops.
Meanwhile, a beer with which to chase a Burns Night whisky is Alechemy’s Bring Out The Imp (10.5%, £3.70, hippobeers.co.uk), an imperial stout fermented with fruity Belgian yeast and brewed with oatmeal, liquorice and molasses. Aged in whisky barrels for three months, it’s a viscous, velvety vortex of dark fruit, vanilla and espresso best served in a snifter.
Drinking courses through the veins of the Scots and the passion is reflected in bars. Edinburgh, the scene of so much success for Burns, is home to Bramble, a cracking cocktail bar responsible for the creative twist on the G&T on this page. For anyone who can’t enjoy a Burns Night in his native land, though, we have also included some simple cocktail recipes using the best Scottish spirits.
Burns night cocktails
Blush Apple Martini
- 50ml Caorunn gin
- 50ml pressed apple juice (cloudy)
- 5ml sugar syrup
- 3 raspberries
- Garnish: a raspberry or three
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake hard, fine strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a raspberry.
Stir over ice, strain into chilled glass. Garnish with lemon.
Glass: rocks/ tumbler
Stir the sugar and bitters in an Old Fashioned or rocks glass. Add a piece of ice and stir; add some of the bourbon and a piece of ice and continue stirring, adding ice and bourbon slowly. Squeeze the orange peel over and drop in. Garnish with orange peel.
- 50ml TBWC Secret Distillery 9-Year-Old Whisky from That Boutique-y Whisky Company
- 15ml Sweet Vermouth
- 10ml Dom Benedictine
- Garnish: lemon twist
- 25ml Caorunn gin
- Fentiman’s tonic
- Dash of Dr Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock Bitters
- Garnish: slice of apple or stem of redcurrants
Pour ingredients over ice. Garnish with apple or redcurrants