This week, Times Drinks Editor James Viner recommends a fine selection of Scotch whiskies that are perfect for a traditional Burns Night celebration which falls on the evening of Wednesday January 25…
Falling on Robert Burns’ birthday in 1759, Burns Night is when lovers of Scotland’s most famous poet and son, congregate to celebrate his life with a glass in hand, plates of steaming haggis, creamy neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes), recitals of the ‘Selkirk Grace,’ whisky toasts, the sound of bagpipes and a rehash of New Year favourite ‘Auld Lang Syne.’
The first Burns Night supper was held in July 1801, when nine of Burns’ closest friends assembled to mark the fifth anniversary of their comrade’s death. If you’re throwing a Burns Night supper, you’ll need a wee dram to round things off, so why not get into the spirit with one of these four great bottles of Scotch. Slàinte mhath!
- Must-try sub-£17 supermarket single malt whisky. Glen Marnoch Highland Single Malt Whisky (£16.99, Aldi, 40% ABV)
Aldi’s Glen Marnoch Highland and Glen Marnoch Islay single malt whiskies both received Gold Medals at the acclaimed International Spirits Challenge 2022. Although not especially complex, the youthful and pale Glen Marnoch Highland Single Malt has inviting notes of dried fruits, lemon sherbet, digestive biscuits and light spices. It is nicely balanced, mellow, polite, and delicious neat or in a Japanese-style mizuwari (with still water and ice). Pour a little over the haggis perhaps. A bargainous treat, especially given the recent huge price increases for single malts (and everything else).
- Smooth, light-bodied, easy-drinking dram from the Lowlands. Aerstone Sea Cask 10-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky, William & Grant, Lowlands (£20 Clubcard price, Tesco, 40% ABV)
Matured for over 10 years in warehouses perched on the Ayrshire coast in the Scottish Lowlands, the Aerstone Sea Cask is a light, mellow, heart-warming dram with an easy-going floral and smooth vanilla character, plus hints of honey, grass, baked shortbread, sea salt and a touch of toasted almond. It’s a joy to nurse and very much a gentle aperitif-style malt. An altogether fittingly festive local dram to raise a glass to the ‘Bard of Ayrshire’ who was born in 1721, just two miles to the south of Ayr. Easy-listening sort of stuff.
- Deluxe special-occasion blended malt whisky for the Burns Night supper. Berry Bros & Rudd Sherry Cask Matured Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (£36.90-£37.95, Berry Bros & Rudd and The Whisky Exchange, 44.2% ABV)
Single malt whiskies are made from 100% malted barley, yeast and water and are the product of just one distillery (customarily blended from several within the same distillery). By contrast, blended malt whiskies – formerly known as ‘vatted malts’ or ‘pure malts’ – are made using single malt whisky from two or more different distilleries. Finished in sherry casks, this rich, dark, blended malt is a top-class drop and brims with dried fruits, prunes, caramel, toasted raisins, sweet spices, leather and figs. The sherry-cask influence gives a richness and spiciness and the somewhat higher strength exposes a step up in quality. Try not to grin until you’ve sipped. Voilà! Everything seems better now, doesn’t it? Would make a posh Bobby Burns (a close cousin to the Rob Roy) ice-free cocktail. Just add equal parts Marini Rosso sweet vermouth and a half measure of Bénédictine liqueur and garnish with a citrus twist perhaps.
- For peat’s sake, try this pungent, splash-out malt masterpiece from Islay. Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (£76.50-£81.75, Waitrose, The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt, 43% ABV)
A luxury, world-class dram to toast Rabbie Burns would be the exceptional 16-year-old Lagavulin single malt from Islay. Islay is Scotland’s ‘Whisky Isle’ and it houses nine working distilleries. Is this a blemish-free, impeccably matured work of art in a glass bottle? I very much think so. Sitting in a tiny and picturesque bay between Ardbeg and Laphroaig, Lagavulin is one of the three Kildalton distilleries in the south of Islay. Ideal for those whisky lovers who prefer a peatier and smokier dram. Think wave after wave of tobacco, phenolic peat, iodine, brine, salty seaweed and Lapsang Souchong tea, laced with chocolate, black pepper, smoked fish and creosote. A robust, nuanced, complex, not-to-be-missed malt masterpiece that will engage the senses of the most ardent ‘smokeheads.’ Try it with blue cheeses or the iconic Burns Night haggis, that ‘Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race,’ as the bard himself described it. This is an awesome whisky to savour.
Follow James on Twitter @QuixoticWine