Burns Night: Honour Saved by BrewDog and Ardbeg Heavyweights

It’s time for me to re-think Burns Night supper.

I say this having got it mightily wrong this Burns Night. Forgot the neeps, decided to go with mashed potatoes and made a flour-based onion gravy using a dark-ish beer finished with some Laphroaig. BP would have been better off if they’d used my offering in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Cullen Skink? Culinary sink, more like. Honour was saved though, by the drinks I chose to accompany the supper.

Haggis_2012_med

I’m sorry to have almost let the haggis down, because, for this sassenach, haggis is about honour. It is not for me to talk about the honour of celebrating Scottishness, although every puddin’ chieftain sold south of the border honours Scotland. I can’t even really talk about honouring Burns. For all the poetry and the whisky, it’s the haggis that is piped in to the dining room as the centrepiece of the supper.

There’s no getting away from it, though, haggis is offal, and by placing our attention on such a dish we honour the beasts that went to make it. Lamb isn’t just about gigot.

It might be tempting then, to think about haggis as wastebasket food, but it is far from that. Haggis is big in flavour, big in texture, and great, hearty winter comfort food. To do it honour we need to encounter it at its best. Are the traditional accompaniments the right ones to make it shine?

In the tradition, neeps and tatties is a lot of stodge to go with something that is already padded with oatmeal. So you need something to lighten things up. I could happily leave the mashed or boiled potatoes for another day, and if you insist on the swede, then you’d better have plenty of butter.

And to drink? Burns Supper is one of the few feasts in the year where it’s not hard to persuade the most blinkered wine-is-best character that you are probably better off drinking some fruit of the malt. A proper haggis is deep and richly flavoured – and often strongly peppery. Whisky, is a given surely, but a big enough beer at the same time makes an excellent liquid foil.

Demon Drink
If I got the food combination wrong this time, at least I got the drinks choice bang on: a cherished, horded, one-last-bottle of the syntactically challenged BrewDog “bitch please” – their collaboration beer with American brewers Three Floyds, and Ardbeg Alligator – a mighty, special edition Islay whisky from Ardbeg, matured in new American oak casks so charred on the inside they are said to look like alligator skin.

The bitch please is certainly big enough: a barley wine made with peated Islay malt with the addition of magnificently un-Reinheitsgebot shortbread and toffee, and spiced up with an earth-spanning range of hops. If that wasn’t enough, the finished beer is then barrel-aged for 8 months in casks that once exchanged their tannic secretions with Jura’s malt whisky. Unfortunately, mere mortals can’t get it any more because right after I got mine, Valhalla bought the entire remaining stock for Thor and Odin. I heard.

Talisker is my first choice Burns Night dram. Not any fancy bottling either; the normal 10 year-old. That was my third oversight of the evening: no Talisker. I could have gone with the Laphroaig Quarter Cask I used in the gravy, but then I hit upon the Ardbeg Alligator.

The Alligator is a beast. Where Talisker has pepper and some sherried sweetness in its bracing saltiness, this Ardbeg has gobfulls of pepper, barely cracked, and chilli and ginger. This coming after a nose like barbecue glaze that’s dripped onto the coals.

And the haggis stands up to it all. It feels like its honour has been saved. Maybe this is all you need for the perfect Burns supper: a mighty ale and a beast of a whisky. And the words of Robbie Burns.

*********
I wish I’d gone with what Laphroaig posted as their suggested sauce: a simple cream sauce flavoured with wholegrain mustard, chives, lemon and “2 generous dashings of Laphroaig.” Quarter Cask works best, they say.

Robert Burns’ Address to a Haggis. in standard English
The Nightjar’s take on how BrewDog did Burns Night Supper 2011

The Ardbeg Alligator direct from the distillery shop.
You can’t get bitch please, but you can get Tokyo* from the BrewDog shop.

German Beer Purity Law: “Reinheitsgebot” on Wikipedia

No Resolutions, no Predictions: 6 Wishes for a Maltier 2012

Who was it that said, “I never make predictions, and I never will!”?  Well, it wasn’t Charlie Brooker, Guardian columnist and TV’s Screen Wipe writer, scourge of the mediocre. And despiser of new year resolutions, it seems. In his column on 8 Jan he says of resolutions, “You think of something you enjoy doing, and then resolve to stop doing it, thus giving them the longevity of a Christmas tree withered by a month of central heating.”

Mikkeller_ny_med

January does though, give at least the idea of a clean slate. As I toasted in the new year with a bottle of Mikkeller Fra… Til.. dark winter ale, I thought about what I would like to see and what I would like to change in 2012. So, no resolutions and no predictions…

 1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs
Especially pubs serving food. OK, most of the point of a British pub is to drink the fine draft beers. Increasing the range of bottled beers will allow a pub to serve a much greater diversity of styles to suit the dishes they serve. Take a leaf out of Leeds Brewery/The Midnight Bell collaboration, as seen in my post on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain programme on Channel 4. And pubs: offer beers you can’t get in the supermarket. You’ll be able to charge more. And while I’m on that subject…

2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer
in pubs
What do you mean the Chancellor already did? Leave the ordinary stuff alone. but make good cask and craft keg reassuringly expensive, to recall an old campaign. Well, a bit dearer, anyway. What do you mean people will just stay at home and pay supermarket prices? What do people pay for a bottle of Becks in a pub, £3.50?  That’s like seven quid a pint. For Becks. Don’t even get me started on wine. Stand up for being the premium products they are. I’d much rather more money went to the great small breweries we have in the UK. Excellence should be rewarded.

3. Think big, drink small
When it comes to the bigger beers, pints are for wimps. Yes, that’s right; it’s halves that are for the daring. And thirds are for superheroes. Don’t chicken out and have a pint for your man/womanhood. Your brain, liver, and palate will thank you for that half of ESB. You can then “afford” a snifter of Magic Rock Human Cannonball. If only pubs and bars had more third pint glasses… Wait a minute; Ember Inns already do, for their tasting racks. (Three thirds for less than the price of the pint.) You could even do a round of two halves for standard strength beers. That is, until two-thirds glasses catch on. Daily mirror article from November 2011.

4. Breweries: tell us what’s in the bottle
“Brewed with the finest malt and choicest hops.” It says on far too many labels. Stop it now! Whisky is hardly better: “The purest water flowing down through the glens.” Rubbish. What if my headlines said: “Written with the most descriptive words and crafted punctuation”? Oh, and while I’m dealing with imprecision, stop this “Brewery Conditioned” nonsense. Beer: is it pasteurised? Filtered? Whisky: is it coloured? Chill-filtered?

5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers
When it comes to malt-based beverages, supermarkets are, on the whole, beige with the odd touch of inspiration. And because their ranges are a bit slow moving, you are way better off buying the beer and whisky you really want to drink by going to specialist online beer and whisky shops. At the same time, you get to support the real artisans of malt. Unless you live in Sweden, in which case, you’re more-or-less already catered for. Jammy gits.

My Brewery Tap’s Pick-and-mix range
The Whisky Tasting Club

6. More food and beer together

Writing and talking about Beer with food and cooking is the best way of introducing people to the diverse world of beer styles. I received an honourable mention in the Beer and Food category from the British Beer Writers Guild in December, and this made clear for me a direction for The Nightjar in 2012. I recommend you go to or give a beer dinner; I certainly will.

Damn!, I nearly made it through the whole post without a prediction. Sorry Charlie.