Following the festivities of Christmas and New Year, January often ends up being the least sociable month of the year, so Burns Night, held on January 25, is the perfect excuse to get together with friends and family and celebrate the much-loved Scottish lyricist and poet.
While you don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy Burns Night, there is a traditional running order of events, including toasts, reciting poetry and addressing the haggis.
These all provide great opportunities for creating laughter, memories and enjoying togetherness with those closest.
Perfect Burns Night in
To help make the most of the occasion, Brian Kinsman, Drambuie’s master blender, has provided his top food and drink tips on how to host a memorable Burns Night.
- It wouldn’t be a Burns Night supper without some traditional Scottish fare such as haggis, neeps and tatties, accompanied with a few drams, of course.
Haggis often plays a key role in the proceedings and is a food worthy of its humble roots. In one of Robert Burns’ most famous poems – his “Address to a Haggis” – Burns humorously celebrates his love of the humble delicacy.
The tradition of addressing the haggis has now become a key element of a Burns evening, and while it’s important to keep this Scottish tradition alive, you can also be more creative with your menu. For example, Drambuie can be used in an excellent whisky sauce to pour over the haggis or even be incorporated into a gravy, with neeps and tatties.
- Haggis might not be to yours or your guests’ tastes, so it’s important to serve an alternative – choose a dish that delivers a similar ceremonial presence to the haggis and creates a link to Scotland. Perhaps a vegan version of haggis with lentils and mushrooms, or for pescatarians a Scottish salmon en croute or, for the meat-lovers, you could even serve venison, as a nod to many of the Scottish clans’ favoured symbol, the stag.
- Burns Night food, because of the nature of haggis, is quite rustic. Keep this rustic feel throughout your food and serve either a Scotch broth, smoked salmon, or mackerel pate to start and, for dessert, traditional Scottish cranachan, or a Tipsy Laird cake.
A modern take would be to make it with a Drambuie-infused sponge, homemade custard and top with cream, raspberries, and flaked almonds. If you are looking for something different, try delicious and indulgent Drambuie-infused Spiced Millionaire’s Shortbread or individual Ecclefechan Tarts – made with buttery pastry and a sweet filling of dried fruit, walnuts and orange flavours.
- As Burns Night is about celebrating Scottish culture and heritage, the expected spirit used for the toasts is traditionally Scottish whisky. Drambuie, as the oldest Scottish whisky liqueur, is frequently served and the sweetness of the liquid makes it very accessible to drink neat or over ice, and therefore a crowd-pleaser after dinner for the many toasts. It also pairs beautifully with cheese, desserts and coffee.
- While it’s common knowledge that Robert Burns’ favourite drink was whisky, according to his poems he also enjoyed a few ales too. As drinking Scotch whisky is often reserved for the toasts, I’d suggest serving other Scottish drinks, like a beer, favoured by Burns, to remain authentic. Innis & Gunn brewery or Broughton Brewery have some excellent choices.
Getting it just right
To create the right Burns Night atmosphere, Freddy May, Drambuie’s global ambassador and hosting expert, added:
- As a host, share your plans for the evening ceremonies in advance and suggest to your guests that they might like to dress up appropriately to encourage everyone to participate in the fun. At both formal and informal evenings, guests have enjoyed dressing up in traditional Scottish attire from a full kilt to something simple like a tartan tie or hair accessory.
- Encourage participation, as attitude and atmosphere are just as important as the food.
To involve your guests further, nominate them to make a short speech and toast the rest of the party. “The Toast to the Lassies” is traditionally given as part of the ceremonies and an opportunity to commend the chef, the women in their lives, as well as make affectionate fun of them.
Then “Reply to the Toast to the Lassies” is a great opportunity for one of your guests to provide a witty retort and toast the celebrations. For a modern twist, guests could add what they like about their friends, in addition to spoken word or poetry.
- Invite your guests to embrace their inner acting talents and perform the traditional ceremonial roles suggested for Burns Night. They could take inspiration from famous Scots to deliver the short Selkirk Grace with a convincing Scottish accent.
- Styling your party is a great way to create an inviting Burns theme into your home. A warm atmosphere with lots of twinkly lights and candles and a table styled with thistles and touches of tartan can set a warming, inviting mood with a Scottish theme.Opt for statement pieces on your home bar to make it a real focal point for guests – beautiful whisky tumblers or a quaich, a traditional shallow drinking cup or bowl, offer great talking points and keep to the Burns theme.
- While bagpipes are a good option for Burns Night, and are traditionally used to pipe in the haggis, you may not want them playing for the whole evening.
Burns Night suppers can be contemporary too, so build a playlist of songs by more modern talented Scottish music acts to bring the party atmosphere. This could include Lewis Capaldi, Calvin Harris, Annie Lennox, Paolo Nutini, Franz Ferdinand, KT Tunstall and Biffy Clyro. However, a rousing chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” at the end of the night is a must.