Cocktail of the Day: The Robert (Bobby) Burns
Happy Rabbie Burns Day!
Or specifically, “Burns Nicht” if you’re going to be holding the traditional celebration for the Bard of Scotland tonight, in honor of his 214th birthday.
(Quite a handsome bloke, wasn’t he?)
If you were hoping for that most traditional of Scottish dishes, always served on Burns Night by those celebrating the poet’s life, prepare to unleash a joyous shout of “Gie her a Haggis!” The USDA is going to relax its ban on the importation of the real MacCoy, made of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep, mixed with beef suet, onions, oats, black pepper and stuffed into the stomach of the animal. (Mmm.)
This is great news! See, thing is, though … haggis is good. I’ve had it, in Edinburgh, Scotland, no less. If you’re a Louisianian or a lover of Louisiana food who’s eaten and enjoyed boudin, then you’re pretty much there — it’s a very small leap from boudin to haggis. Think sheep instead of pork, oats instead of rice, stomach instead of intestinal casing (and the stomach is just that, a casing — you don’t eat that bit). It’s a big fat sausage, basically, no big deal, and as a waiter in a Scottish restaurant in New York said, “If you can eat a New York hot dog and not ask what’s in it, you can eat haggis.” It’s particularly good when served with the traditional accompaniments of “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and potatoes), some strong Scots ale, a wee dram (or four) of whisky … and, um, in my case in Scotland, a few dashes of Tabasco that I snuck out of my bag and applied when no one was looking. Untraditional but yummy nonetheless.
Of course, you’ll be needing plenty of guid Scots whisky tonight, whether you’re having haggis or not. There’s a huge world of it that I’m still only just beginning to explore, but these days I’m enjoying the maritime flavors of Islay whiskys — the wonderfully smoky Laphroaig 10-year (“like drinking bacon”), the intense “Band-Aids, sweat, leather and iodine bouquet” of Lagavulin 16-year (seen below) or the delightfully earthy, smoky, spicy, almost chocolatey Ardbeg Supernova, if you can still find it. Find a good blend too — don’t discount blended whisky, as there are many superb blends. Compass Box Asyla is a favorite, Famous Grouse is our regular mixing Scotch, and I loved the complex, nutty, spicy, fruit-and-toffee flavors of the Chivas Regal 18-year I tried recently.
If you’re a cocktailian, though, how about something (presumably) named after the Bard himself?
This is similar to a Rob Roy, with an important difference — a barspoon of liqueur for a touch of extra sweetness and spice. In most recipes you’ll see the liqueur called for is Bénédictine, but David A. Embury (one of our revered cocktail bards) suggests, in his landmark tome The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, that Drambuie be used instead. This makes perfect sense, as Drambuie is a Scottish liqueur based on Scotch whiskey, with heather honey, herbs and spices, its name coming from the Scots Gaelic an dram buidheach — “the drink that satisfies.” If you don’t have Drambuie on hand, though, Bénédictine is certainly wonderful stuff and still makes an excellent drink.
I kind of want to rename this drink the “Robert Burns,” or at least “Rabbie Burns,” but alas, there’s another drink called the Robert Burns which appears to be another Rob Roy variation with orange bitters and a dash of Pernod (undoubtedly tasty but, I think, a bit less interesting than this one). Then again, Eric Felten referred to the Drambuie version as a Robert Burns rather than the Bobby, thoroughly confusing the whole affair.
Embury’s version called for Angostura bitters, but I’m going to bring it a little closer to that least Scottish of cities, New Orleans, by swapping it out for Peychaud’s. I’ve been doing that in my Rob Roys every since Gaz Regan pointed out Peychaud’s remarkable affinity for Scotch, and a splendid idea it is. You’ll get only a hint of anise from the Peychaud’s, as opposed to the greater smack from Pernod, and I like the subtlety of that. I’ll also further confuse matters by calling it what I please, making sure to roll my Rs properly as I do. This is what we’ll be drinking tonight.
THE ROBERT BURNS COCKTAIL
(adapted from at least three other recipes for either Robert or Bobby Burns cocktails and by no means definitive, and pronounced “rroberrt burrns” … roll those bleedin’ Rs!)
2 ounces blended Scots whisky.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 barspoon Drambuie.
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters.
Combine with cracked ice and stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass, express the oil from the peel and garnish. Then recite some Burns…
Let other poets raise a fracas
‘Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names an’ stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug,
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.
O thou, my Muse! guid auld Scotch drink;
Whether thro’ wimplin’ worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name!
This goes on for nineteen more stanzas, so sip slowly or you’ll never get to the end.
UPDATE: In his link to this post, Daniel at Thirsty in LA referred to my “experience with haggis.” That reminded me that I didn’t tell you about the whole experience.
I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of the restaurant in Edinburgh where I first dined on haggis, neeps and tatties, but I do remember that it was near the train station. The selection of ales and whiskies was fine, and I imbibed heartily of both. As I was beginning to enjoy my haggis, my waiter seated another party at the table next to me. A party of Americans, in fact.
They weren’t just Americans, though … they were the stereotypical Ugly Americans. I couldn’t tell exactly where they were from, but it was somewhere in the Deep South given the twanginess of the accents. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.) The problem wasn’t the accents, it was what the table’s spokesperson said in the accent, and the earsplitting volume with which she said it.
They were in my waiter’s section, and when we went to their table she bellowed, “AH HEARD THAT WHEN WE WERE IN SCOTLAND WE WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE THIS THANG CAWLED HAGGIS … BUT IT SOUNDS SO DISGUUUUUSTING! IF WE ORDER THAY-AT AND WE DON’T LIKE IT, CAN WE SEND IT BAAACK?” The entire restaurant fell silent, as she then had everyone’s full attention.
Nonplussed, the waiter said, “Well, I cannae take it back with one bite taken ou’ of it, can I? We’d still have tae charge for it. You should probably decide now if that’s what you want, and if you don’t want that you should probably order something else. We have a full menu.”
With a look on her face suggesting that she had just volunteered to be on one of those reality shows where they glue tarantulas to your head and drop you out of a helicopter into a tub of animal entrails, the lady ordered her haggis.
When it arrived, she made an even bigger scene, and was even louder than before. She closed her eyes, held her nose and brought the fork slowly up to her mouth, all the while nasally screeching with pinched-shut nostrils, “OH MAH GAAAAD … OH MY GAAAAD … HERE AH GO! HERE AH GO! AH’M GONNA DO IT … HERE IT COMES! … OHHH! OHHH! EWWWWWWW!!”
The gaping, speechless waiter then came over to my table to fill my water glass, and I said, “On behalf of the entire United States of America, I apologize to you and the nation of Scotland for that woman.”
He laughed, and said, “No worries. How’s yer haggis?”
“Lovely, thank you.”
After that appalling display, I shouldn’t have worried about unobtrusively sneaking a little Tabasco out of my bag.