It’s that time of year isn’t it. Gym membership renewed, purse strings tightened, and not a drop of alcohol allowed in the house… That is until the 25th of January, the day when we celebrate the life of the surrogate Patron Saint of Scotland, Robert Burns. It marks the end of dry January (I know it’s early, but if you’re Scottish then 25 days tee-total is more than enough), and the beginnings of your social life in 2018. This year, Burns Night is kind enough to fall on the last Thursday of the month, known to many as payday, and what better way to celebrate than with a hearty meal and some fine whiskies.
But what to serve, and how do you pair your whiskies? Well, I have gallantly foregone my January health kick in order to try some whiskies for the benefit of the readers (don’t mention it), and have compiled for you the ultimate Burns’ Night whisky pairing. So clear the calendar, lay the table and put your framed picture of Nicola Sturgeon on the mantlepiece…
Smoked Salmon and Kilchoman Machir Bay
Along with Whisky, Salmon is one of Scotland’s biggest exports, and is a must-have on any Burns Night menu. There are a number of good options for pairing with Smoked Salmon, Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster being a close contender, but our suggestion is to serve with Kilchoman Machir Bay. Named after a beach very close to the Kilchoman Farm Distillery on Islay, maritime character is in the name as well as on the nose. Wafts of sea salt and brine are met with characteristic Islay peat smoke, finished with citrus sweetness. What better flavours to match with Scottish smoked salmon and a squeeze of Lemon.
Cullen Skink and Douglas Laing’s Provenance Caol Ila Feis Ile 2017
Cullen Skink is a classic Scottish soup made from Haddock, potatoes and sometimes milk. It’s rich, it’s hearty, and it requires something with gusto to cut through it. We feel this year’s DL Islay Festival bottling from Caol Ila has just the thing. It’s only a 7 year old whisky, and judging by the colour one that has been aged in a pretty well-used single cask, but it offers something special on the nose. Expect hefty notes of smoke and yeast like a thick spread of marmite on burnt buttered toast or even a vintage champagne. It’s character is intensely savoury, which is why it works so well with the richness of Cullen Skink, and at 50.6% ABV it’s likely to warm you up on a cold January evening and get the conversation flowing.
Balmoral Chicken and Talisker 10
If you’re wondering where the Haggis is then don’t worry, “Balmoral”, as well as being The Queen’s Scottish residence, also means roast chicken wrapped in smoked bacon, then stuffed with Haggis (and it goes without saying that this roast’s trimmings should include neeps and tatties). Once the offal has been properly addressed with “a grace as lang’s my arm”, pour out a glass of Talisker 10, a dram that I don’t normally go for except on Burns Night. Not exactly an obscure choice, this Classic Malt from Diageo still does the trick for me. the light smokiness and peppery spice matching up to the heavy seasoning of Haggis and managing to cut through its robust flavours. As the pepper sits at the back of the mouth some sweet fruitiness emerges, which will sit beautifully with your neeps.
Cranachan with Ben Riach 21 Port Pipe Matured
Cranachan is the archetypal Scottish dessert, made from raspberries, cream, honey and, of course, whisky. In this instance I would recommend sticking to Famous Grouse for your cooking recipe and leaving the good stuff for your glass. This Ben Riach was originally matured in bourbon barrels before being finished in Tawny Port casks, 21 years of maturation giving it incredible depth of flavour. The first thing you’ll notice is rich, ripe red fruit sweetness, stone fruit creaminess and honeycomb. the confected character reminds me of boiled sweets, strawberries and cream Campinos or the inside of a recently devoured peach yoghurt pot. An incredible addition to the the honeyed berries of your Cranachan.
Cheese board with Dailuaine 16
By this point you may be about to burst, but one final treat is still awaiting you. The lesser spotted Dailuane 16 is a great accompaniment to any cheese board. One of the more elusive Diageo malts, and all too often forgotten in lineups of great sherried whiskies, this dram smacks you in the face with notes of spiced dried fruit so rich that you won’t need the quince jelly. Some light, nutty maltiness alongside dark chocolate make this whisky almost a dessert in itself. A perfect finish to a great evening.
Now leave the dishes until tomorrow, pop Braveheart on the telly, and immediately fall asleep.