Burns Night could not be timed better – on 25 January – where it serves to lighten an often dreary month and helps reassure us that winter’s end is not so far away.
It has two other important advantages, though:
- Bringing people together in a lively social event, and,
- Celebrating the talent of a Scot who was years ahead of his time.
Since food and drink were warmly appreciated by Burns, his birthday is also an opportunity to showcase Scottish cuisine.
Although most classic aspects of Burns Night are carefully structured, there are opportunities to be flexible with what we drink with that traditional food.
Obviously whisky has a part to play – and wine usually puts in an appearance too – but there is also a place for carefully chosen beer.
That can offer a good way to dial down alcohol levels, supply a contrast to the richness otherwise on display and provide more diverse drinking options.
So, today’s post recommends something sound and suitable in four categories (red wine, white wine, whisky and, for the stated reasons, beer).
In the usual way, hyperlinks and pictures are used where possible to help you locate the bottle in question.
Let’s start where the spirit is willing
While whisky is indispensable in the toast the haggis, it can also run on as a companion to the main course itself; my selections take that into account.
Many folk, I know, contend that whisky with smoke and peat elements complement the richness and spiciness of haggis well.
Personally, however, I usually find that the intensity of – say – Islay versions overpower the meat completely.
This year has provided an exception, however, in the form of an award-winning whisky that is also great value.
Glen Marnoch Islay Single Malt Whisky (£16.99 at Aldi):
This does the job perfectly because it has a delightful softness to its classic brine and bonfire flavours and because those elements are nicely enhanced by orange, ginger and toffee apple touches.
Yet more complexity is added by the heather-based sweet edge it contains and which haggis attractively underscores.
And from the mainland
Ben Bracken Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (£16.99 at Lidl):
Just as Aldi has a range that offers a trilogy of classic whisky styles (Speyside, Highland and Islay), so does Lidl – and at the same price.
This is my personal pick of Lidl’s threesome with its taste and smell of cappuccino coffee, rich yet restrained smoothness and gentle marzipan sweetness.
As a little bonus, it works well with haggis too.
Incidentally, if you are not sure which of those styles is for you, why not buy all three of either Aldi or Lidl’s ranges and become your own expert?
Unlike wine, whisky won’t deteriorate quickly, so that's a £50 plan that keeps on giving.
Beer can work well on Burns Night too
Building on what I said earlier, beer is often the chef’s choice for mealtime alliances.
Its wide range of flavours and textures help to make it so.
Since “what grows together, goes together” I usually recommend William’s Bros Fraoch Heather Ale (or another Scottish beer) to partner haggis.
Today, though, my selections are from that excellent Suffolk brewer, Adnams.
And here is my favourite
Adnams Old Ale (£1.92 per 500ml bottle in packs of 12 at Adnams):
My top match for this occasion is a traditional “mild” which is not only nicely smooth but is also lighter in texture than many dark beers.
It has subtle caramel and liquorice flavours with hints of nutmeg and fruitiness, all of which combine to merge harmoniously with haggis.
For a more robust alternative try Adnams Tally-Ho Barley Wine (£2.09 per 330ml bottle in packs of 12) or – going in the opposite direction – how about their Ghost Ship Pale Ale (same price as “Old Ale”) for something slightly lighter.
And finally to wine
2020 Gewurztraminer Wolfberger (£9.25 at the Co-op):
As a partner for haggis, never hesitate about using white wine, and especially examples from Alsace.
Mountainous with its own culture and language (and healthy appetites), Alsace does – after all – have much in common with Scotland.
So, here is one from a variety that I have long considered a sound (and surprising) companion to haggis.
Golden, bright and smooth, this gewurztraminer brings us rich oriental fruit flavours with mild grapefruit acidity and suggestions of honey, mace and allspice.
But what about a red?
Red wine for haggis causes disagreements, with some arguing for bold wines like shiraz or zinfandel.
Others take a different route and contend that pinot noir is the preferred choice – especially if a sauce is in evidence.
As I have recommended full reds for the last three years, it must be time to consider something a little lighter.
Instead of pinot noir, however, I have sampled haggis with the wines of Beaujolais (another region of healthy appetites).
Where better to seek one out than the commendably large Beaujolais list that Wickhams offers.
My Top Choice is ….
2019 Château de Belleverne, Beaujolais Villages (from £10.35 at Wickham):
The best match for me was this carefully matured rendition of gamay which seems to offer some of the sophistication and longevity I would normally expect from the Crus of Beaujolais.
Soft, with that region’s trademark violet traces, it delivers smooth red cherry and strawberry flavours yet contains just enough acidity to cut through any fattiness in the meat.
To be fair, I also enjoyed Wickham’s 2020 Domaine de Mont Joly “La Croix Polage” Beaujolais Villages (from £14.30) but its 14% alcohol and robust flavours seemed too sturdy for haggis.
That said, its gentle herbal and floral influences coupled with the contrast between its graphite background and slightly sweet fruit make it great for other occasions.
And for a lovely illustration of exactly what typical Beaujolais does well, seek out Wickham’s 2021 Les Pivoines, Beaujolais-Villages (from £9.45).
It delivers ripe and juicy cherry and raspberry flavours within a typical light and soft (but slightly savoury) framework.
Tune in again on Monday when value at budget price points is, once more, the theme of my latest Top Tips post.
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