Every country has its Bard. The English have Shakespeare, the Welsh have Dylan Thomas, the Irish have Seamus Heaney. And the Scottish? Well, they have the great Robert Burns.
Master of poetry, Rabbie Burns, as he is commonly known in the Scottish tongue, was born in the town of Alloway on January 25th 1759. He quickly rose to fame, opting to write much of his verse in the Scots language and as the Scottish face of the Romantic movement.
He later died on July 21st, the date that Burns night was first celebrated, in his memory. The tradition quickly grew, and although it is not a Bank Holiday, it is one of the most widely held and enjoyed of Scottish celebrations.
This is night that takes in and embraces some fundamental Scottish traditions. Kilts, pipes, haggis, Burns’ poetry and of course some fantastic malt whisky are what lie in store for all who indulge in this night of revelry.
A typical Burns Night Supper begins with an introduction from the host and the saying of the Selkirk Grace (in purest Scots of course) which goes as follows:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
To get you in the mood, Balblair have been in touch to tell me about three pairings they are suggesting for Burn’s Night this year – let me know if you try any, here is the first one.
Start the evening with a dram of Balblair Vintage 2005. Light, fruity and refreshing, this classic Vintage embodies Balblair’s house style. Full of character, the Vintage has citrus aromas of apple and honey, followed by the intense taste of sweet toffee and vanilla, rounded off by a deliciously spicy, long finish.
After this rousing little verse, the haggis is “piped” in. What better way to usher in a meal than with a standing ovation and a good old burst of the bagpipes?
The haggis of course takes pride of place on a silver platter, followed closely of course by a traditional bagpiper. It is laid on the table in preparation for the Address to the Haggis.
This is a truly spectacular moment. When else in life can you watch as an eight verse long poem is recited to a haggis? Never!
The poem in question is Burns’ own Address to a Haggis, a fantastic rhyme that includes everything you would ever want to say to a haggis, including a reference to it as the “Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race”!
With this comes the toasting of the haggis, when glasses are raised to a raucous cheer of “The Haggis” and a good old dram of whisky is downed.
I recently wrote a piece for The Independent about pairing food and whisky and how I love to pour Octomore over my haggis:
Haggis, neeps and tatties is a quintessential Scottish dish, but what many people are yet to discover is that when you receive your plate, you should immediately fashion a well along the middle of the haggis and pour a hearty dram of a punchy whisky in there, in this case, Octomore. This will give the haggis a bit of oomph, will add a spicy note and the nose of the whisky coupled with the food completes the dish nicely.
Or, if Octomore is not your bag, why not pair your haggis, neeps and tatties with a glass of Balblair Vintage 1999. On the palate, it is full bodied, sweet and spicy in character, with hints of honey, vanilla and leather. It has signature Balblair aromas of honey and green apples, as well as hints of spice, citrus, fruits and vanilla make it the ideal Vintage to sip while absorbing the party.
The haggis is then piped back out, in order to be prepared for dishing up alongside some neeps and tatties.
Now, this is where the real celebration begins. If you thought the piping of the haggis was enough entertainment for one night, then you are surely mistaken.
The order of service for the next part of the night is as follows: first entertainer, toast “to the immortal memory of Robert Burns”, second entertainer, Toast to the Lassies, third entertainer, reply to the Toast to the Lassies, final entertainer, vote of thanks, and finally, to round it all off, a group sing-a-long to the legendary Burns tune of Auld Lang Syne, accompanied by crossed hands.
Each of the entertainers recite different poems by Burns, interspersed with different toasts.
The toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns speaks for itself as a way of dedicating the night fully to the great poet.
The Toast to the Lassies on the other hand, is something else. This involves a speech specifically written for the night to poke fun at the women in the crowd, all in light-hearted fun, of course, and ending on a positive note!
The women are of course given their chance to reply with their own flavour of wit and sarcastic thanks to the originally speaker. Again, this is all in good fun and should always end on a positive note.
Finally, to bring the night to magnificent end, the guest sing Auld Land Syne, one of Burns most famous songs that is of course, traditionally played on New Year’s Eve.
The brings the night to an uplifting end, uniting together everyone in the room in the name of good fun and high spirits! Now is time to impress your friends… so why not finish off with a dram of Balblair Vintage 1990. Boasting a spicy yet sweet aroma, the whisky is punctuated with notes of raisins, toffee and honey. On the palate, the Vintage it is full bodied; sweet and spicy in character with hints of zesty fruits. With a luxurious smooth finish, this expression is the perfect after dinner treat.
Burns Night is not just a night to celebrate a wonderful poet, but also a night to come together and truly enjoy yourself in the company of friends and surrounded by timeless traditions!