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.


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