Getting ready to celebrate Scotland’s national poet? The SMWS can help with that – with our guide to how to throw a great Burns Supper, along with the best whisky.
What other poet can you think of who is celebrated not only for their written work, but in song, music, food and most importantly whisky? We should all give thanks for the extraordinary life and work of Robert Burns, the ploughman poet whose life and work is remembered on or around 25 January, the anniversary of his birth in 1759.
The Burns Supper has now been held since a group of the poet’s friends held the first gathering a few years after his death at the age of only 37. It’s now a worldwide event and has grown to include certain key elements. But as a maverick himself, we’re confident Burns would have approved of any form of celebration – as long as it includes a few drams.
If you can’t make it to one of the Society’s official events, why not organise a Burns Supper of your own? You can pick and choose between what elements to include, but the key points to consider are:
Decide who’s going to be master (or mistress) of ceremonies: it helps to have someone appointed to keep the evening running smoothly and make the appropriate introductions.
Prepare a haggis: it’s hard to imagine a Burns Supper without Scotland’s national dish, served with neeps (turnip) and tatties (potatoes). If the ingredients are too much for some delicate stomachs, there’s always a vegetarian option.
Address the haggis: no great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race should be consumed unaddressed. Even if you don’t understand every word, a passionately delivered Address to a Haggis gets the evening well underway.
Plan some speeches: if you’re going to properly celebrate Burns the poet, you should have someone prepared to deliver the Immortal Memory, a tribute to his life and work. For a bit of fun, try to persuade your guests to deliver both a Toast to the Lassies, and of course, the right to reply from one of your female guests.
Poetry is not optional: you might not be able to persuade anyone to recite all 224 lines of Tam O’Shanter, Burns’s most famous epic poem. But there are plenty more to choose from, with more than a few whisky references as well. For his description of barley’s journey from field to glass, look no further than John Barleycorn, which ends:
‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy;
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.’
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!
WHAT TO DRINK
Whatever form your celebrations take, you need the right whisky, and there’s an appropriate dram for each stage of your Burns Supper. Here’s what we recommend:
To pipe in the haggis
Get your evening underway by welcoming in the haggis to the sound of the pipes. We can’t all get Pipe Major Iain Grant at our own Burns Supper – he’ll be busy at The Vaults – but he recommends a recording of either the Burns standard Is There for Honest Poverty (A Man’s a Man for A‘That) or a non-Burns work celebrating the man, The Star o’ Rabbie Burns. Have your guests ready to raise a glass of whisky from our Sweet, Fruity & Mellow flavour profile, such as our special Burns bottling Cask No. 7.195: If Rabbie Burns did afternoon tea.
To go with your meal
There may well be a drop of whisky in your haggis already, but you can enhance its peppery, spicy flavours with a dram from our Spicy & Sweet profile such as Cask No. 13.50: Cajun sweet potato fries. You could pour it over the haggis, but we’d recommend savouring it from the glass.
To go with the speeches
Depending on who’s delivering them, these could go on for a while, so make sure your guests are well topped up with a soothing post-dinner dram from our Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits flavour profile, such as Cask No. 63.44: Deep soul medicine.
To end the night
A rousing chorus of Burns’s Auld Lang Syne is traditional, and what better to round off an unforgettable evening than a warming Peated whisky. Look out for Cask No. 66.112: Smoky, sweet, spicy, salty popcorn.
Find the perfect whisky for your own Burns Supper by visiting our latest Outturn