Your humble narrator recently explored his inner Scotsman. There was haggis. There was fine scotch. There were hairy legs poking out of a kilt.
No, gentle reader, this wasn’t some tentative foray into cross-dressing, and the kilt was entirely modest. The entire affair was to mark the 254th birthday of Robbie Burns.
For those not in the know, Robbie Burns is Scotland’s most famous poet/writer, considered the great national bard of the kilt-wearing folk. His birthday is considered one of the most important holidays in Scotland, and is celebrated by those of Scottish descent the world over.
Robbie was born on January 25, 1759 to peasant farmers in Alloway, and turned to writing poetry to escape the hardships of poverty and subsistence farming. He eventually rose to the status of cultural icon in Scotland, loved by rich and poor alike. His Scots Wae Hae lyrics were used as an unofficial national anthem for decades, but he is most recognized in North America for his poem Auld Lang Syne – y’know, the one you sang off-key back on New Year’s Eve.
Scottish emigration through the ages has resulted in 30 million people of Scottish ancestry living overseas, vastly outnumbering the 5 million people in Scotland proper.
Canada alone has 4 million people of Scottish ancestry – almost as many as Scotland! Nova Scotia (Latin for New Scotland) is home to large numbers of both Highland and Lowland Scots, and Scottish culture has continued to flourish there. Outside of Nova Scotia, Canada’s largest Scottish settlement ended up in Montreal in the 1700’s. Ever wonder why McGill University doesn’t have a very French-sounding name? Now you know – it was funded and built by Scottish settlers.
Your intrepid liquor reporter decided to take up the torch and host his very own Burns Supper this year. It began with a visit to my local butcher, to have a haggis prepared for the night in question. My theory is that 99% of the haggis consumed in Canada happens on January 25, as my butcher already had a long list of customers eager for the sheep innards.
With the acquisition of the haggis duly accomplished, I set upon the task of preparing the cock-a-leekie soup, which is the traditional first course of a Burns Supper. Luckily, Scottish cuisine is much less complicated than the victuals of other countries, so even one with such meager kitchen skills as myself had no trouble.
When the unruly posse of my regular drinking companions arrived at my swinging bachelor pad, they set upon the soup and haggis with the vigor of a company just returned from a fortnight of fasting on the blasted heath with MacBeth himself.
With the meal consumed, we started to pour the many fine Scotch whiskies, and enjoyed them while toasting the memory of Robbie Burns, even reciting a few of his poems to add to the solemnity of the occasion.
There were many fine whiskies tasted over the course of the evening, but the clear favourite was the Highland Park 15 Year.
For those who have never sampled this fine whisky, Highland Park is Scotland’s most northerly distillery, located in the town of Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands.
The distillery was established in 1798 by a notorious moonshiner and smuggler named Magnus Eunson, who was the bane of the roving tax-collectors of the day.
Eventually, the distillery operations went legit, and continue to this very day. For most its history, Highland Park did not bottle their own product. Rather, as was the custom of the day, full barrels of young whisky were sold to independent bottlers, who would age and blend the whiskies for retail sale.
This was common practice in Scotland for centuries, with the independent bottling houses being the largest retailers on the market. It was not until 1979 that Highland Park bottled their first single malt, which the whisky world is very thankful for.
In 1984, Highland Park received the first ever perfect rating of 100% by the tasting team of the national newspaper, and has won many more accolades over the years since then.
If you would like to try it yourself, your local well-stocked liquor store will have the youngest 12 Year bottling available for around $60, all the way up to the 40 Year old for close to $2000, and every price point in between.