Burns Night; part celebration, part potato farmer’s wet dream, part hangover preparation, part poetry slam. Some like a boozer full of jocular Jocks, some a refined evening of intellectual stimulation while others prefer to rent their food, returning it afore the night is out. However you celebrate it, hail fondly the man whose name it bears; the Bard of Ayrshire, the Ploughman Poet – sweet Rabbie Burns!
Son of tenant farmers, poet sublime, breaker of hearts and drinker of wine (in large quantities), Robert Burns guzzled from the oaken barrel of pure Scotland to bear into the world some of the greatest poetry penned.
Many know his famous couplet about the futility of planning ahead, for things can and will go wrong:
‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley’
Fewer know what comes next:
‘An’ leave us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.’
Probably thinking about the ‘blinder behind the eyes’ type hangover there, our Rabbie. Let’s defy his gloomy sentiment and say: “Sure, Robert, a plan’s no sure thing but have you thought about doing it with a nice cocktail in your hand?”
You know, a proper Burns’ Night cocktail? In that spirit, here are some of the best cocktails to wash down those neeps and tatties. And let’s face it, a bottle of whisky comes in handy when faced with a haggis.
First up, from the wonderful Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, comes eponymous cocktail perfection.
Shake the ingredients well and strain into a highball glass, squeezing the lemon peel on top. Harry reckons this is “one of the very best Whisky Cocktails” and reveals it’s a “very fast mover on Saint Andrew’s Day”.
For the Vermouth we can recommend going French with a Dolin Chambery for its softness on the palete, German (yes, the Krauts make vermouth too!) with a Belzazar White or for a little Italian style, a Cinzano Rosso. The red vermouth is a ballsy choice as it changes the balance significantly, but it’s worth a try if you want something to pucker the lips and lift the whisky.
For the Whisky…..well you’ll know your preference better than us but a nice blended works well. Say a J&B, a Johnnie Walker Red or even better, something with a bit of class – a Lagavulin 16 Year Old.
The Benedictine is easy, there’s only one; Alexandre Le Grand’s DOM Benedictine. If you’ve ever wondered what the DOM stands for, it’s Deo Optimo Maximo (‘To God, most good, most great’) and it’s what Benedictine monks often use at the beginning of documents as a dedication.
No, we’re not back in the trenches with a brave Scots regiment, but once again with Harry Craddock at the Savoy.
The Pernod ought to be the original, the grenadine syrup we don’t yet sell but you can get it in any decent supermarket, and Angostura Orange Bitters is a good solid bitters. There are fancier ones out there if you’re more of an aficionado, like Bitter Bastards Sweet Orange Bitters, or you can even make your own: Bar135 in Bristol has a good guide.
This recipe comes by way of the Scotch Whisky Association and The Scotsman newspaper and it’s a belter. Everybody knows the gloriousness that is a Bloody Mary and this is just the same, but with a full-on Glasgow kiss of Scotch instead of Gin.
A glug of nice Islay Single Malt
Juice of ½ a lemon
Enough Tabasco to put hairs on your chest
Surprisingly not disgusting, this homage in beverage form to Mary I, scourge of Protestants and daughter of King Henry VIII, is the perfect accompaniment to neeps in all their stodgy glory. Needs a good Islay Single Malt though, and Laphroaig’s 10 Year Old (or even their Quarter Cask if you’re feeling mental enough) ought to do it proud.
Lest we forget those working their way through Dry January, we recommend a variation on the Bloody Queen Mary – the Bloody Shame, basically a Virgin Mary.
Incidentally, this name was coined at Buck’s Club, the basis for Bertie Wooster’s Drones Club in P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves books. We have much for which to thank the club and their most famous barman Pat MacGarry (barman from 1919 to 1941), as it was here that he invented Buck’s Fizz. Speaking of making one’s mind up, the jury is still out on whether MacGarry also came up with the Sidecar, that little sip of cognac, Cointreau and lemon heaven.
So, enjoy your night of revelry and remember that Rabbie Burns no liked getting up early any more than we do now:
‘Up in the morning’s no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw,
I’m sure its winter fairly.’