Joe Rogers

What to drink on Burns Night

What to drink on Burns Night
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The Burns Supper is not so much a dinner as it is a celebration of Scotland’s great contributions to poetry, distilling, and sausage making. Even though this year’s celebrations are set to be smaller scale than usual, the 25th of January still represents an opportunity to defy the winter gloom and raise a few glasses of guid auld Scotch drink. A dram or two, taken neat or with water, is traditional for toasting – but this is by no means the only way to enjoy your whisky on Burns night. 

Scotch represents a broader range of styles and flavours than any other spirit and as such has enormous cocktail potential. A good serve can convert purists and whisky-sceptics alike so there’s lots to be gained by getting creative with your malt. 

Speyside Sour 

Sours first appeared on the cocktail scene in the 1850s as a quick and gluggable version of the larger, more elaborate punches popular at the time. The basic formula is spirit, citrus juice, and sugar – perhaps with a little egg white for texture. Kentucky Bourbon is a popular headliner for sours these days, however the right Scotch whisky can really shine in one of these. Here we’re using Glenrothes 10-year-old single malt (£38; Waitrose) which brings lots of vanilla fudge, marmalade, and shortbread flavours to your cocktail.

50ml Glenrothes 10yo 

25ml Lemon Juice 20ml 

Raspberry syrup 

6 mint leaves 

Egg white (one white should do 2 cocktails) 

  • For the raspberry syrup combine 200ml by volume of caster sugar and 200ml of water in a saucepan over a medium heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat right down and add a couple of handfuls of fresh raspberries (about 200g). Simmer for five to 10 minutes or until the berries have broken down. Leave to cool and then strain into a bottle or jam jar. You should wind up with about 300ml which will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. 
  • Combine all your ingredients in a shaker and dry shake (without ice) until the egg white is frothy. Then add ice and shake as hard as you can until the outside of the tin gest icy.
  • Fine strain through a tea strainer into a tumbler filled with ice. Garnish with a raspberry and a sprig of mint. 

The Unholy Alliance

A negroni with a nutty twist

The Negroni reigned supreme in 2020 as a locked down Britain fell in love with the ultimate three-ingredient cocktail. This variation from gold standard whisky makers Compass Box combines their Spice Tree blended malt (£46.95; The Whisky Exchange) with Campari and sweet vermouth. The whisky is matured in a sophisticated combination of French oak, which lends nuttiness and spices, and American Oak, which brings butter and vanilla. In this guise it makes a brilliant digestif. 

40ml Compass Box Spice Tree blended malt

25ml Sweet vermouth 

25ml Campari 

  • Before you start, put some cocktail glasses in the freezer so they’ll be nicely icy when you’re ready to serve. Stir all ingredients over ice and strain into your pre-chilled glass.
  • Cut a strip of orange zest and squeeze, skin-side-down, over the surface of your drink to give it a spritz of citrus oil before serving. 
  • If you’re looking for a good sweet vermouth to use here, Cocchi vermouth di Torino (£22.95; TWE) makes top tier Negronis every time. 

The Penicillin

The Penicillin cocktail - give it some zing with fresh ginger

A true 21st century classic, the Penicillin was invented in the early 2000s by Sam Ross at New York institution Milk and Honey. The combination of lemon, ginger, honey and smoky Scotch is every bit as restorative as the name implies. After one of these you feel fortified, alert, and at least 10 per cent more Scottish than you did before. Many recipes call for a combination of blended whisky and a little float of smoky malt on top. However, with this variation you’re turning up the volume with a double shot of 10-year-old Laphroaig (£38; Sainsbury’s) and a healthy dose of fresh ginger. 

50ml Laphroaig 10yo 

20ml Lemon Juice 

20m honey syrup 

1 tsp freshly grated ginger 

  • Make honey syrup by combining equal volumes of honey and freshly boiled water in a measuring jug. Stir to combine, leave to cool, then bottle up your syrup and keep in the fridge; It should be good in there for a couple of weeks. 
  • Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake them up good and proper. Fine strain the lot into a tumbler or highball glass with plenty of ice and garnish with a wedge of lemon. Make sure you grate your ginger right before you use it – the idea here is to get it when it’s nice and spicy. 

The salty freshness and minerality of the laphroaig is well tempered by the honey and lemon while its lapsang smokiness plays well with the spicy ginger. A real winner. 

 The Rob Roy

The Rob Roy - balance the sweetness with Fino Sherry

On a good day, the Rob Roy - essentially a Manhattan with a Scottish accent - can stand on the bar with the best of them. However, the substitution of peppery American rye whiskey for Scotch can be difficult to balance. In this variation, half of the sweet vermouth is swapped for bone-dry Fino Sherry to stop things from getting too sweet. The connection between Spanish Sherry makers and the Scotch whisky industry is longstanding, as ex-Sherry casks are highly sought after for whisky maturation. The Highland Park 12-year-old (£34; Tesco) used here has a subtle smokiness, some nutty Sherry cask influence, and a costal saltiness – all of which are lifted nicely by the Fino. 

50ml Highland Park 12yo 

15ml Sweet Vermouth 

15ml Fino Sherry 

2 dashes orange bitters 

  • Stir all ingredients over ice until nicely chilled – taste as you go to make sure you don’t overdilute. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist. 

Whisky Highball 

What you’re dealing with here is whisky and soda - about 1:2 - with plenty of ice. Couldn’t be easier. While the humble highball fell out of fashion in these parts in the 20th century its popularity in Japan has only grown since then. So thirsty are our Japanese cousins for highballs that this simple sling has led to a global shortage of their domestically produced whisky. As we’ve begun to import Japanese whisky and the culture surrounding it to the UK, so too have we seen a reappraisal of the good old whisky soda. And, really, it’s not hard to see why: Done right the drink is low calorie, allergy friendly, and absolutely brilliant with food. 

50ml Whisky 

100ml Soda water 

Lemon twist (optional) 

There are as many flavour variations here as there are whiskies in Scotland. The best choices tend to be on the lighter side, as heavy or sherried numbers will tend to fight the bubbles and the minerality in your soda. One nice way to go is to aim for a smoky and coastal profile. Absolutely perfect here is Aerolite Lyndsay (£39.95; Master of Malt) a 10-year-old single malt from the Island of Islay. An Aerolite highball is bright and citrusy with a little brine and apple juice – the perfect support act for smoked salmon or even the mighty haggis. For the smoke averse or anyone wanting a fruitier drink try Compass Box Great King Street (£26.95; MoM), a blended Scotch that’s tailor made for the purpose. With soda it shows pear, vanilla pods, and peaches. Well deserving of a place at your Burn’s Supper.