Robert Burns Night: Pairing Haggis and Whisky
The culinary feast known as Burns Night, a dinner punctuated with poems from Scottish poet Robert Burns for his birthday (the 253rd one) today, is clearly not for the uninitiated. Aside from sourcing or making the Scottish national dish of spiced sheep offal encased in a sheep's stomach, finding a whisky to match with it could be a bigger challenge. So what should you drink with haggis?
drewleavy/Flickr "But mark the Rustic, haggis fed/The trembling earth resounds his tread"
Clearly scotch is the preferred beverage, but with so many brands and styles (Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Islay, single malt, blended, etc.), in this case look for lighter and younger. "I wouldn't go very smoky; I don't think peat goes with food particularly well," explained barman Neyah White. "I'd go lighter, sweeter, nothing old. I would say, very young whiskies from Speyside."
Taylor Boetticher of Fatted Calf agrees. "I prefer less peaty and smoky Scotch, and I think that a more malt-driven one would go better with all the oats and organ meats," he said, adding that, "The fresher the haggis, the stronger the whisky, the better."
Popular and accessible whiskies from Speyside include brands like Glenfiddich, The Macallan, BenRiach, Glenrothes, and the Balvenie, all suitable for the event. If you are looking for a blended whisky, nothing else seems as appropriate as Sheep Dip, an eight year old whisky that combines barrels from all across Scotland. But don't feel like you have to stay in Scotland to find a pairing for haggis. "Japanese whisky is designed specifically to go with funky food--that's its thing," added Neyah White. "It's the only one of those whiskies categories where blenders are thinking about food right from the beginning."
When all else fails, you can't go wrong with beer, especially the low-hop, sweet, and malty styles the Scots are known for. Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats doesn't really drink a lot of whisky, but explained, "If I was eating haggis, I'd drink a big Scottish ale, then I would enjoy a house scotch." Look for Paradox from Scottish producer Brewdog, that ages a stout in used whisky barrels, if you can't decide between the two.
Mixed drinks can be a challenge to pair with food, but they're a great way to start the night, particularly if you're stirring up Robert Burns or Bobby Burns cocktails, scotch whisky variations on the Rob Roy (whisky, sweet vermouth, bitters). The best cocktail to drink with dinner though, might be the simplest one: a Highball. The simple combination of whisky and soda water, has the added benefit of keeping you hydrated, but just buzzed enough to recite poetry to your friends like you mean it.