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The best whiskies to celebrate Burns Night

Tom Sandham
Black Rock bar - Addie Chinn

Falling dangerously close to an otherwise successful completion of a "dry January", Burns night, makes for an appropriate occasion to fall off any rickety wagon. Certainly, the celebrated 18th-century poet Robert "Rabbie" Burns, a hedonist of heroic proportions, would’ve sneered at suggestions his birthday, 25 January, be a tee-total affair.

Burns was a huge fan of whisky, despite eventually turning his hand to tax collection as an excise man, and the spirit subverted plenty of stanzas, with poems devoted to his favourite whisky, his preferred pub, while even lambasting the English for raising whisky duty.

To toast this legend of both liquor and literature, I’ve selected a collection that might have been close to his heart - quite a challenge since so many distilleries emerged after his death, when the English finally relaxed the duty.

As it happens, historians have suggested some of the drams Burns downed were less discerning, while he also sank an irresponsible dose of the stuff. So rather than go like for like, I’ve opted for some tenuous themes and advocate drinking less but better whisky.

Lowlands

Glenkinchie 2016 Special Release whisky

In his Jolly Beggar poem Burns mentions a lowland whisky from the Kilbagie distillery, in Kincardine, which by all accounts would’ve been eye-watering gear.

Glenkinchie provides you with a softer, lighter and more balanced lowland, and the Glenkinchie 2016 Special Release is one I’ve been back to a few times.

It shows how a lighter foundation of this style can be reinforced with impressive maturation, still fresh, but sweet and spicy with it.  Glenkinchie 2016 Special Release, £309, Whisky Exchange

Highlands

The Dalmore Vintage 1998, photographed at The Ritz Credit: David Parry

Legend has it the brilliant bard liked a smooth spirit to accompany the rough element he mixed with in the pubs, and some say he often opted for a refined highland malt.

He would’ve been satisfied with Dalmore then, not least because the distillery is so inventive with expressions.

Meanwhile in February 1792 Burns was promoted to the Dumfries Port Division, so the Dalmore 1998 18 YO Port Vintage Collection proved an obvious choice. It's also finished in ex-Tawny port pipes from W&J. Graham Dalmore 1998 18 YO Port Vintage Collection, £199, The Whisky Exchange.

Ardbeg

Ardbeg whisky

In a bid to discover something that was suitably punchy for the poet’s robust palate, I’ve headed to Islay. Ardbeg released its An Oa late last year, the first new permanent expression to emerge from Ardbeg for almost 10 years.

The inspiration is the Oa part of Islay, untamed, much like Burn’s perfect night out. Rounded and sweet with a serious smoky edge, this is a worthy addition to the Ardberg set. Ardbeg An Oa, £48.95, The Whisky Exchange

Blend

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare

Due to legislative pressures on producing whisky, and the resulting abundance of illicit distillate, much of what Burns was subjected to arguably needed blending.

So perhaps to honour him with the sum of his sipping parts and nod to his spirit with this, Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare, a combination of single malts including lost distillery whiskies.

Incredibly complex and unbelievably rich and smooth with it, this is truly a great blend. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare, £220, The Whisky Exchange

Suppers

Were Burns alive, he might well pen a scornful account of the twee and staid suppers marking his birthday. His hijinks were a higher-octane brand of revelry, and nights in the Poosie Nansie's pub saw him party with a less salubrious set. But we don’t have to match him on venue choice, if you’re in London and feel like celebrating with a touch of luxury, best to head to some of the leading liquor establishments.

Black Rock


Award-winning specialist whisky bar Black Rock has partnered with single malt Craigellachie for exclusive sips of rare expressions. After a cocktail, guests will gather around Black Rock's innovative oak "tree-trunk table" and enjoy various Craigellachie expressions, including the rare (indeed no-longer available), 31 Year Old. Throughout the tasting, you’ll also be served house-made haggis. Thurs 25th January Time: 7pm - 9pm; £15 per person - includes tasting glasses of various Craigellachie expressions, a cocktail on arrival and snacks. Email hello@napoleon-hotel.com to reserve your place. 9 Christopher Street, London, EC2A; blackrock.bar

Cub,  Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan's restaurant and bar

Cub

<br> If you’re an intrepid imbiber, then Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) will need little introduction. A pioneer of potables, his excellent Cub restaurant proves he can pair drinks with eats. He’ll help you celebrate Burn's Night, with a Scottish feast and Glenmorangie Single Malts cocktails to match, as head chef Doug McMaster presents a dedicated menu including a rather special haggis (and veggie friendly haggis for the non-meat eaters). 25th January, £65 pp, Email cub@mrlyan.com, 153 Hoxton Street, London, N1; lyancub.com

 

Tom Sandham is an award-winning spirits author and expert and one half of the Thinking Drinkers with beer expert Ben McFarland. The Thinking Drinkers will be performing their critically acclaimed piece of drinks theatre at the Museum of Comedy in London in December. For details visit www.thinkingdrinkers.com