Scotch whisky is a perfect partner for your Burns Night dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties
January can be a tough month, with its long, cold evenings and the spectre of unfulfilled resolutions, but one beacon of comfort appears towards the end of the month: Burns Night. A time for camaraderie, eating and – even better – drinking.
The great thing about Burns Night is its accessibility: from a large, planned event with poetry readings and the legendary “piping in of the haggis” to a more homely soirée with a few good friends or even a solo affair, if you’ve got some haggis and a microwave, you’re good to go. Read on for a selection of mixed drinks to accompany your evening.
To launch the celebrations, here is a fun, citrusy drink that is great to serve as your guests arrive. The drink takes its name from a line in Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse”.Best Laid Schemes
Add the Scotch and bitters to a Champagne flute and then top up with the wine and sparkling water, before garnishing with the orange peel.
- 30ml blended Scotch
- 2-3 dashes orange bitters
- 50ml sparkling wine
- 50ml sparkling water
- Orange peel, to garnish
– – – –
The main dish of the day on Burns Night is haggis, neeps (swede/rutabaga) and tatties (mashed potatoes). This is often paired with a slightly smoky dram of Scotch whisky, perhaps a Johnnie Walker Black Label or Talisker, to complement the peppery notes of the dish.
But with a dish that is so warm, peppery, and substantial, I think there is an argument for pairing it with a longer whisky drink. During my university/college days, I would have opted for a Scotch and Ginger, but nowadays I find that that is just too sweet, so here are four alternatives for you to try. Splendid Blaze
Add the Scotch and orange juice to a Collins/Highball glass with plenty of ice. Slowly add the sparkling lemonade and use a barspoon, teaspoon, or chopstick to gently stir. Garnish with a slice of orange.
- 45ml blended Scotch
- 60ml freshly squeezed orange juice (or 50ml orange juice from concentrate plus 15ml Triple Sec, but it really is worth the extra effort to use freshly squeezed)
- Chilled lemonade (sparkling), to taste
This drink, named from a line in Burns’ poem “Halloween”, is refreshing and long, and the zestiness of the orange really breaks through the strong, meaty and peppery flavours of the haggis, whilst the whisky still comes through well. A surprise, but a very pleasant one!
– – – –Scotch and Soda
- 50ml of your favourite Scotch
- 30–90ml chilled soda water
This drink gives the whisky plenty of room to “breathe”. The trick here is to use very cold, very fresh soda or sparkling water and a freezer-chilled glass. Johnnie Walker Green Label or Chivas Regal 12 are great options.
– – – –Scotch and Water
- 50ml of your favourite Scotch
- A large ice cube
- 30–60ml chilled still water, served on the side
This is a variation on the Scotch and Soda, inspired by the Fine l’Eau, a Cognac cocktail, that brings the alcoholic strength of the spirit down to around that of wine. Again, the whisky character comes through with a lively thirst-quenching character.
– – – –
Many of the above drinks work well alongside haggis because they can cut through and complement the slight fattiness. If your Burns Night supper features vegetarian haggis, which typically has less fat, you may like to try a drink with less of a citrus-forward flavour profile, such as the bright and leafy Joyful Julep. Joyful Julep
This drink was partly inspired by recipes for haggis from the 15th century, which didn’t include much spice beyond pepper but instead included more herbs such as mint, savoury, and thyme.Using a high-quality mint tea bag (ideally one that includes three different types of mint – Pukka makes an excellent one), infuse it in your blended Scotch of choice for 2–3 minutes. Add ice and top up with still or sparkling water as preferred.
– – – –
Traditionalists may complain that some of these unconventional choices leave you unable to fully appreciate the whisky, but I would argue that this is about the wider experience, not the individual spirit. Pairing any Scotch with such a flavoursome, peppery (and delicious) main course will always cover up some of the nuances of the whisky; I imagine the same is true if you ate garlic bread with a Cognac!
After such a hearty meal, a big dessert isn’t everybody’s first choice, so here is a post-dinner drink that pairs well with all-butter Scottish shortbread. The classic buttery, flaky biscuit pairs particularly well with this drink’s fresh mint and tart blackberry jam.Berry Scotch Smash
Put all the ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Dump the contents of the shaker into a double rocks glass and garnish with a mint sprig.
- 50ml blended Scotch
- 1 heavy barspoon your favourite black fruit jam (I am fond of blackberry or black cherry)
- 4-6 mint leaves
- ½ lemon, cut into 4 pieces
- 15ml simple syrup
And finally, some suggestions for the humble yet delicious cheese board to round off the evening.Cheddar and Oatcakes
Pair with drams of the following:
- Auchentoshan Three Wood
- The Macallan 12 Years Old Double Cask
- The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old
- Laphroaig 10 Years Old Sherry Oak