On this day 263 years ago Robert Burns was born in Scotland. He would go on to put to word what many Scots thought of their homeland and be remembered as the poet of Scotland. As the diaspora has spread across the globe they have taken this day to celebrate the man and their heritage.
Although there is no hard and fast rules for how this night should be celebrated there are several similarities from what I have read to to make a Robert Burns Night. There is the parading and presentation of Haggis, reciting of many of his poems to include Address to the Haggis, A Red Red Rose, Auld Langs Syne, and drams of whiskey.
Like many Americans I can trace my ancestry to somewhere other than America, but I could not tell you for certain if I have any ties to Scotland. What I do have is an appreciation for good poetry and drink and would happily spend an evening enjoying the two. The 25th of January is any day as good to enjoy a good scotch whiskey.
For this evening I have chosen Lagavulin 11 Year Offerman Edition. The Lagavulin distillery can trace its history back to when John Johnston and Archibald Campbell Brooks built separate distilleries on the site in 1816. The distillery is located in the Isley District of Scotland. This district is signified by a dominant smokey character. This characteristic comes from when the malt is dried with peat, a historical heat source in the region. Much like haggis this smokiness is either loved or hated by whiskey drinkers.
As soon as the cork is popped, the smokiness of a camp fire comes at the drinker. Mixed in with the smokiness is a leather and wool blanket aroma that induces several images. The whiskey pours a golden straw color that is very clear. When swirled around it leaves narrow legs spaced a good distance apart from each other. The first sip has a strong burn on the tip of the tongue. The sip rolls smoothly over the tongue and then burned again once it hit the back of the throat. A strong retronasal smell of peat comes back through the nose with the swallow. I believe the burn on the mouthfeel and the powerful smoky scent forces me to enjoy this whiskey slowly. This leaves plenty of time for conversation and reminiscing. The smokiness the whiskey leaves in your mouth and nasal passage is the same feeling that I have when I sit around a fire for the evening. Probably cold possibly terrible weather but definitely with close friends who would enjoy this drink with me as much as enjoy each other’s company. At the end of the night my cloths and hair are permeated with the smell of smoke. While my wife would wish that I get a shower as soon as we get home I do find enjoyment in getting a waif of smoke in the morning and remembering the previous evening. I would imagine that is the same feeling that Scottish people feel when they read the words of Robert Burns.
Even if I could find haggis in Japan I am not sure I would want to have any this evening. The best description I have had about haggis was similar to how boudan was first explained to me. Do not ask what is in it before you try a bite. If you like it, dont ask and enjoy the meal you had. If you do not like it ask what is in it and realize why you dont like the meal. As mentioned before, I would pair this best with talking to friends around a camp fire, but if I was forced to eat something I would pair a sausage with this whiskey. The greasiness from the fat will cut into the smokiness of the drink. The spices in the sausage will stand up to the alcohol heat and will not be overwhelmed from the peaty flavors of the scotch.
The poems of Robert Burns are often reminiscent of a place that is no longer or never was. This evening as you enjoy your whiskey and celebrate your even remote Scottish Heritage read through his poems and think of your home and the fond memories of that place. I know I will be thinking of America from Japan tonight.