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Sunday, 25 January 2009

Burns Night Bonanza...

"Oh Whisky! soul o' plays and' pranks!
Accept a bardie's gratefu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless eranks
are my poor verses!
Though comes - they rattle i' their ranks
At ither's arses!"

Robert Burns: 1759- 1796

Whisky lovers! our spiritual evening of merriment is almost upon us and cometh the hour for sitting down with friends & loved ones for a dram of your finest to accompany the most Scottish of all dishes: the humble Haggis.

This Burns night, I find myself somewhat pre-disposed, out of reach of a good bottling and unfortunately lacking in any Scottish delicacies.  But before I start recounting some of Burns' most heart-wrenching couplets to convey my misery- all is not lost!
Last Friday, I had the foresight to plan a Pre-Burns Night, evening with several close friends. 
A classic MacSween Haggis was purchased and a wonderful creamy mix of 'Neeps & 'Tatties prepared.  Someone even concocted an edible shrine to all things Scottish (see above) and had provided a proper send off for the Haggis, in the shape of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guard ceremonial band! (well, not the whole company, just one of 'em...)

The conversation quickly turned to which whisky would be the perfect liquid accompaniment... which ended up taking up a larger part of the evening than planned!  
Our fact-finding  took us the length and breadth of Scotland, with a little bit of a curved ball thrown in for good measure.  Below are our recommendations if you're planning on matching a cracking dram with your Haggi (is there a plural for Haggis?)

1. SMWS bottling 26.57 - 'An Absolute Cracker' - 55.4 % vol: This is a really superb dram and its waxy, zesty elegance worked really well with the spiciness of the meat and sweetness of the 'Neeps & 'Tatties.  Old Clynelish and (if you have some) Brora seem to have that special something when it comes to matching with well-flavoured meats...

2. Lagavulin - Distiller's Edition release 1990 - 43% vol: In the past, I have tried highly peated whiskies with Haggis and they just overpower the flavour completely and add a real sour note to the meal... This expression gets round the problem and the rich sweetness of the sherry finish takes the edge off that classic Laga' grit and grime, to meld mouthfuls of meaty delight!

3. Ardbeg Uigeadail - 54.2 % vol: Another bottling which balances the peat with some decent sherried notes.  Unfortunately, my bottle is a little old now and it didn't stand up as well as the Laga' or Clynelish, but that said, a fresh bottle would be an excellent choice for tonight's festivities.

4. Highland Park 18 yo - 43% vol: The sweetest and perhaps most lightweight of the bunch, with layers of honey, spice and orchard fruits.  This combined well with the savoury spice of the Haggis and brightened up the palate a little for our desserts (a devastating bowl of fresh Cranachan!)

5: The curved ball.... er..ok, here goes... Karuizawa Cask 3397 - Distilled 1988- Bottled 2007- 59.8% vol:  Sacrilege!!!  A Japanese whisky with Haggis?! on Burns Night??... Yes, shoot the messengers- we confess all!  it had to be tried at least and... it worked sensationally!!  The mossy, mustiness of damp forest floors and massive meaty sherried palate complimented the meal with total aplomb.  

Somewhat controversial, but let's hear it for equality!  All in all, a fine portfolio of five festive drams that we urge you to try tonight. If you haven't any of these, then go freestyle and find your own top match- the overall finding was that a balance between peat, sherry, sweetness and spicy clout seemed to work best.