As Scotland’s celebrated son Robbie Burns wrote, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,” and 2021 will see a very different Burns Night, so our friends at anCnoc Distillery have put together a few ideas…
The Scottish tradition, which celebrates the life and works of Scotland’s famous poet Robbie Burns, has become popular across the globe and is a great way to bring friends and family together. The first Burns Night was held on 25 January 1801, on what would have been Burns’ 42nd birthday, as a group of nine friends and patrons came together to celebrate his life – something Burns would undoubtedly have approved of, given his fondness for a wee dram and a good gathering with friends and acquaintances.
Accounts from those early celebrations show that over the last two centuries much remains unchanged, from the piping in and addressing of the haggis, to the reciting of Burns’ poetry. The roots of the evening remain the same but, as the years progressed, what was initially a celebration of one man has become more about the celebration of a rich culture – albeit with Rabbie still at the heart of the thing.
With the world still in turmoil, 2021’s Burns Night is set to have a rather different feel, with celebrations being held virtually, but that doesn’t have to mean that the festivities will be any less enjoyable or traditional.
“Burns Night is a celebration that is steeped in tradition, but the key focus in my opinion, is to enjoy good food and drink, poetry, and most importantly to have fun” explains Gordon Bruce, distillery manager at Knockdhu Distillery in Aberdeenshire. “Incorporating contemporary ideas into Burns celebrations will make the age-old event more accessible and personal to people.
“It also ties in with how our team at Knockdhu make anCnoc whisky – using traditional methods but adding a modern twist,” added Bruce.
Burns Night Food
No Burns celebration would be complete without haggis, neeps and tatties – a menu staple. If you fancy trying something a little different, then you could spice things up with some haggis pakora.
This delicious twist on the traditional dish is thought to have been created by the Sikh community in the early 1990s, and have since become a popular addition to the menus of Indian restaurants in Scotland. The dish combines traditionally cooked haggis (minus the skin) with a combination of pakora spices which is then battered and fried. With recipes everywhere you look on the internet, why not give it a try?
Haggis and black pudding bon bons are a contemporary twist. Served as a starter or as a Scottish tapas dish, they are incredibly simple to create – just combine the two meats, roll them into balls, coat them with beer batter and fry.
If you do decide to go down the traditional Burns supper route, anCnoc’s Peatheart single malt flavour is a fabulous addition when misted over cooked haggis and served up with your neeps and tatties. It’s a peated whisky so adds a lovely, rich flavour to the dish.
Burns Night Music
Bagpipes are a beloved feature of Burns suppers – a piper will traditionally pipe in both the guests and the arrival of the haggis, but a lack of piper need not be a problem.
There is a whole host of contemporary bagpipe and Scottish music available online, so with a little research you can create your own playlist which is sure to get your guests feet tapping.
Perhaps check out highland indie-folk band Elephant Sessions, if you want to try something different this year.
Burns Night Social Distancing
If you are hosting a virtual party via apps like Zoom or Duo, with some forward planning you can make sure that while the party is in different locations, the experience is the same.
Send guests a list of any ingredients and whiskies that they will need to make the dinner, and don’t forget to send the recipe and course timings so things can run smoothly on the night – not that anyone will worry about that once the whisky starts to flow!
Burns Night Poetry
There are so many fantastic Burns poems that you and your guests can recite on the night.
Widely read to celebrate the haggis itself, ‘Address Tae a Haggis’ is an obvious essential.
For a modern twist, you could encourage guests to research and recite their favourite Burns work. The pronunciation (or mispronunciation) of Auld Scots is part of the fun.
Alternatively, guests could be asked to get creative and pen their own Robbie Burns tributes.
Burns Night Whisky
If you’re hosting a Burns supper then a nice whisky is a must. In fact Robbie Burns knew all about whisky as he worked as an exciseman.
Traditional celebrations include a variety of toasts – to the haggis, to the lassies and to whatever you fancy toasting – so make sure you have some to hand throughout the event.
Whisky can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, but Gordon Bruce’s personal preference is to add a few drops of water.
The anCnoc 12 Year Old has a sweetness that sets a nice balance against the pepperiness and spice of a haggis. Its honey notes would also work especially well to make cranachan – a delicious Scottish dessert that can be easily made at home.
If you are serving a cheese board, pairing Strathdon Blue with anCnoc Peatheart makes for an excellent combination.