Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos courtesy of Luisa De Luca.
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.
Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
Address to a Haggis
Robert Burns, 1786
Every year on the date of his birthday, Scotland honors its national poet, Robert (Robbie) Burns (1759-1796) during what is known as a ‘Burns Night’ with supper, pipping and whisky making that date the apex of the haggis-eating season. In the past, I was invited to a Burns Night by the American Scottish Foundation of New York, and this year Arran Malt invited me to a Burns Supper on January 14, ten days prior to the traditional celebration of the Burns Night which is January 24.
Everyone of Scottish descent gets dressed in their tartan finery indicating their clan. The word ‘clan’ actually derives from the Gaelic ‘Clann’, meaning ‘children of’. However the meaning can also be ‘tribe’ or ‘race’ or can represent a particular family group. The Clan system was given form in 1587 with the Roll of the Clans. Some of the names on this Roll have a truly ancient pedigree. Clan Donald originated from Conn, the second century King of Ulster; the Campbells were alleged to have descended from Diarmaid (or Diarmid) of the boar legend; and the MacKinnons and MacGregors, with the noblest lineage of all, can trace their ancestry back to King Alpin, father of Kenneth MacAlpine. However, most clans have difficulty verifying their heritage before the 11th century.
Even though I no longer have the kilt that 55 years ago a love of mine had made for me, I still enjoy a serving of haggis now and then; and I very much enjoy a dram of the “good stuff” any time I have a chance and the men with kilts are serving.
A Burns Supper, formal or informal, typically includes haggis, Scotch whisky and the recitation of Burns's “Address to a Haggis” a poem published in 1786, ten years prior to the poet’s death. A traditional formal Supper contains a number of prescribed steps, including the Selkirk Grace (allegedly penned by Burns for the Earl of Selkirk), a Toast to the Lassies, a Toast to the Laddies, speeches, singing of “Auld Lang Syne,” and much piping.
Haggis is a savory pudding (sausage) containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs) minced with onion, steel cut oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the lamb's stomach; though nowadays it is often in an artificial casing. I consider it an acquired taste and, as far as I’m concerned, the world is divided between those who love haggis (not too many individuals, mostly people of Scottish ancestry) and those who loathe it (most all others).
Greeks and other Balkans are usually excepted from this list of ‘others’ because they eat ‘kokoretsi’ a traditional accompaniment to spit-roasted lamb; a long skewer that has hearts, livers, kidneys, spleens, lungs and other lamb organs plus salt and spices wrapped in intestine and then roasted on the same charcoal grill the lamb is cooked in. Another ethnic group that is also excluded from the list of “others” is Ashkenazi Jews as they are very fond of ‘kishka’ or ‘stuffed derma’ a name of Slavic origin that refers to sausages made from stuffed beef intestine with a filling made from a combination of meat and grain or, in the kosher version, matzo meal, schmaltz (liquefied chicken fat) and spices.
A bagpiper accompanied the haggis as it was ceremoniously brought into the dining area then, prompted by the master of ceremonies, the audience joined in the toast to the haggis by raising a glass of Arran Malt and shouting: To the haggis! The main course i.e. the haggis was served with its traditional companions, neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes).
The Arran Malt we had at this Supper came from the Isle of Arran distillery in four expressions and we were very happy to taste them all.
First was the ‘Robert Burns’ obviously named after the poet; it was creamy, vanilla-y tasting with spice and oak notes. The nose had notes of honey, toffee and dry fruits (apples and pears) and a hint of cinnamon. Aged for about 8 years, it was an interesting dram very similar to most highland single malts.
The second expression was the 10-year old, a clean and fresh dram with creamy sweetness; slightly nutty on the palate with toffee and fruity notes. The nose had hints of butterscotch and licorice and showed oaky vanilla.
The third was the 21 years old. It was excellent with a sampling of dark chocolate which was distributed after the main course. The buttery nose had predominantly notes of sweet spice, marzipan and lots of fresh apple, some lemon and peaches. The palate is rather sweet and fruity (peaches, baked apples and hints of mango), mixed with vanilla and gingery notes from the oak casks it is aged.
Finally the Machrie Moor; this one I really liked as it is similar to the Islay peaty monsters I normally prefer. The nose is full of peat smoke, vanilla and tropical fruit. The palate showed malty notes with pineapple, biscuits and citrus fruits. The long finish was full of peat smoke. A real delight!
And a great time was had by all!
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