It can be a long and rowdy night, Burns’ Night. And this year it promises to be longer and rowdier than ever, what with all this chatter about Scottish independence and secession. The other night in the pub there was even some rather bullish talk of banning non-Scots from our modest event down here in Sussex.
Happily, once it had dawned on Andrew and Donald that this hasty, Salmond-inspired edict would result in there being just the two of them for dinner – which neither of them is equipped to cook and neither of their Sassenach wives is minded to cook on their behalf – reason won the day.
The poor saps have been rather on the back foot ever since and I’ve much enjoyed baiting them by wafting beakers of fine whisky under their hooters drawn from all corners of the earth except their beloved Alba.
It’s been a joy to watch smiles of pride and recognition spread across their ruddy Celtic faces as they sniff at and then slurp a fine single malt from what they imagine to be Speyside or Islay, only for their beams to vanish as I offer a top-up and pass, for example, a bottle of 18-year-old Hakushu, an absolute belter of a dram from the forested foothills of Mount Kai-Komagatake, Japan.
The other night I trapped Andrew with the extraordinary Paul John Single Cask 161 Whisky from, erm, India. It’s a youthful beauty: delicately honeyed with hints of citrus and coffee and made from 100% Indian malted barley, aged in old bourbon casks and bottled at 57% ABV.
Admittedly, it hasn’t always gone my way and the lads are getting wise to my ploys. The boldly flavoured Jim Beam Devil’s Cut from Kentucky, the rich sweetness of which I rather like, was easily spotted as an interloper and the succulent Bushmills 16-year-old from Ireland was just too soft, smooth and silky for their Scottish tastes.
As for the Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander Single Malt from the Bräurerei Locher brewery in chocolate-box-pretty Appenzell in north-eastern Switzerland, Donald wouldn’t go near it. More fool him as it’s a fascinating drop, not up there with the Hakushu or Paul John but tasty nonetheless, with a malty, spicy sweetness thanks to its having been aged in old beer barrels. This was a new one on me. I’ve had beer aged in whisky casks before – the stunning Harviestoun Ola Dubh 18 Special Reserve, aged in Highland Park casks – but not whisky aged in beer barrels.
But I really shouldn’t keep teasing the boys and now that we non-Scots have been graciously re-invited to our local Burns’ Night it will, of course, be Scottish whisky all the way. And, out of courtesy to Andrew and Donald, and in a nod to their magnanimity, we intend to do it properly.
We’ll be using Glenlivet’s excellent How to… guide to Burns’ Night (find it at, which explains exactly how things should run, since Andrew and Donald were more than a little vague. They remembered the Selkirk Grace and having to pipe in the haggis and that was it, bless them.
As I say, whisky will take centre stage and although there’ll be plenty of vino or beer available to go with the cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, neeps and tatties, tipsy laird, clootie dumplings and cheese and bannocks, we’ve amassed quite a range of uisge beatha.
Having spent some time on Islay earlier this year matching varying expressions of Bowmore and Ardbeg with fine local dishes, I know just how well whisky can go with food.
For aperitifs, we might well go for drams of fresh, summery, peachy Glenlivet. I reckon something like The Singleton of Dufftown will match perfectly the cock-a-leekie soup’s savoury broth and dark, full-flavoured prunes thanks to its brown sugar and espresso coffee notes.
For the haggis, how about something like Glenfiddich’s non-chill-filtered 15-year-old, with its delightful peppery notes and hints of cream? And what better than the tropical and fruity Glenmorangie Astar with the tipsy laird trifle?
If funds allowed, I’d love to include the striking Lagavulin 21-year-old with the cheese. Part of the superb new Diageo Special Releases range (all of which are available at, it’s a cool £350 a pop. Too much for us, alas, although you’ll never see a better expression of this immaculate whisky.
We’ll probably end up with some Drambuie 15-year-old, which I love, although I can’t help thinking we should smuggle in some rich and peaty English Whisky Chapter 9, from the St George’s Distillery in Norfolk. Just for fun, you know. Light the touch-paper and retire…

Six of the Best for Burns’ Night