Robert Burns Day Drams; Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

We’re coming up to January 25 which marks the annual celebration of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns who lived from January 25, 1759 to July 21, 1796. Many of Burns’ songs and poetry were inspired by the beauty of Scotland, particularly the breathtaking scenery of Ayrshire, his birthplace and the romantic setting of Dumfries & Galloway where he lived in later life. It’s believed his love of nature stemmed from his working life on the family farm in Alloway, Ayr, where he wrote poems such as ‘To a Mouse’, ‘The Primrose’ and ‘A Winter Night’. Burns’ most famed poems are Auld Lang Syne and To a Haggis – the latter is oft recited at Burns Nights. Traditional Burns suppers centre on haggis (innards stuffed in a sheep’s stomach), neeps (turnips), tatties (potatoes) and plenty of whisky and music.

In Scotland it’s the Year of Natural Scotland 2013, and Burns celebrations are planned countrywide, forming the culmination of Scotland’s Winter Festivals. In Edinburgh Scotland’s national storytelling centre has a packed program from January 18 to 26 of Robert Burns related events, including storytelling, music, songs and of course haggis. Events include traditional Burns Suppers, café Ceilidhs, and music nights. In Perthshire, the Famous Grouse Experience (January 25) includes a distillery tour, a dram, a serving of haggis, neeps and tatties and a Burns recital. January 25 – 27 the “Big Burns Supper” is Dumfries’ newest festival of contemporary arts. The program consists of poetry performances, 10 minute Burns Suppers, and a Spiegeltent which will provide a hub for the festival’s live performances from acts such as Deacon Blue and Eddi Reader.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

The National Museums of Scotland offer Burns Unbound: over the weekend of 26 and 27 January visitors can for example join celebrity hosts to celebrate the life and work of Scotland’s National Bard by attempting to beat the world record for a mass recital of Burns. In Ayrshire on January 27, Alloway 1759 takes place in and around Burns Cottage and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum where the streets will be lined with costumed characters and performers. Participants will enjoy such events as horse and cart trips, haggis hurling, The Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra, Burns Childrens’ Party, Hoots Owls and Willie Stewart singing songs of Burns. The museum also offers visitors a chance to sing or play Auld Lang Syne and become part of Robert Burns Museum. They say “No matter how good or bad a performer you are – Burns himself had a notoriously terrible singing voice – you can add to this growing exhibit by posting your video to our facebook page.”

Of course you can hold your own Burns celebration and you can sing and post a video without leaving Canada. To loosen your vocal cords and get in the mood here are some recommended scotches available at the LCBO:

Té Bheag Unchilfiltered WhiskyThe Balvenie Double Wood 12 Year OldThe Balvenie Double Wood 12 Year Old

Established in 1892 in Speyside, Balvenie grows its own barley, does traditional floor malting, has its own coopers to tend to casks and its own coppersmiths for the cooper stills. This is matured first in American bourbon barrels, then oloroso sherry oak casks both which show in the bouquet and taste. Sweet, rich and warming with vanilla bean, fruit and honey notes, it is unctuous with good depth. Flavourful, layered and velvety mellow with a warm spirited finish, it’s a great dram for winter nights.  (PMA)

Té Bheag Unfiltered Gaelic Scotch Whisky

This is a great value with a neat story behind it. The Gaelic Whisky Collection dates to 1976, when Sir Iain Noble set up a whisky company to create employment in the South of the Isle of Skye and provide authentic whisky for the Gaelic speaking islands of the North West coast of Scotland. Headquartered in the Scottish Hebrides, the Gaelic Whiskies have pioneered the reintroduction of “un-chill filtered” to preserve character. Té Bheag means “the little lady” and is pronounced “chey vek”. A blend of malt whisky with lighter grain whiskies, it’s soft, smooth, malty and delicately peaty (there’s Talisker in the blend). Toffee flavours, and a rich soft finish make it an easy pleasure to sip.

Springbank 10 Year Old Single MaltHazelburn 8 Year OldSpringbank 10 Year Old

Located in Campbeltown and founded in 1828, Springbank claims to be the oldest independent family owned distillery in Scotland. The full production process is carried out entirely on the one site from traditional floor malting to maturation and bottling. The distillery has never chill-filtered nor added any artificial colourings to their single malts. Aged 60 per cent in bourbon casks, the rest in sherry, Springbank is amber gold in colour with a suggestion of maritime breezes in its bouquet. Intense, with good depth, it has intriguing brown spices, vanilla and bourbon infused oak on the palate. There’s a lovely tang of the sea in the rounded malty finish.

Hazelburn 8 Year Old

Produced at Springbank, pretty Hazelburn is triple distilled and unpeated making an elegant, silky smooth, feminine style of whisky. Delicate and sweetly honeyed, one can find hints of bourbon and sherry especially in the finish. Vanilla, malt and a touch of peppery spice also come forth. This is a whisky that could seduce vodka lovers to embrace the “dark” side.

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength 10 YearsRobert Burns Arran Single Malt ScotchHighland Park Thor 16 Years Old Orkney Single MaltHighland Park Thor 16 Year Old

The Valhalla Collection has been created by Highland Park to recognize the Scandinavian heritage of the Orkney Islands and the whiskey that’s made there. Four Viking gods have been chosen to have whiskeys created after them in a manner that speaks to their character. Thor as the god of thunder and war packs a punch. At cask strength (52.1%) it’s tough but fair. A few drops of water help open it up to reveal nuts, fruit and a sweet mid-palate from the former sherry casks that it’s aged in. Make no mistake however the sweetness only slightly tames Thor’s power. This is complex with a firm lengthy finish.

Robert Burns Arran Single Malt

From the Isle of Arran Distillers, one of the few remaining independent distilleries in Scotland based at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, which lies off the West Coast between Ayrshire and Kintyre.  Although the bard never actually visited the Isle of Arran, he certainly would have seen it on clear days as he laboured in the fields of Ayrshire on his father’s farm. At that time there were several illicit stills on Arran which produced whisky. The hooch was shipped to Dunure in Ayrshire – then the centre of the illegal whisky trade – before being shipped to the gentry in Scotland’s major cities where they “took the Arran waters”. This is an eloquent smooth dram, never chill filtered. The nose is of spiced pear, malt and honey. The taste is light, fruity and sweet at first, followed by a nutty, spiced finish. Silky and smooth overall.

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength 10 Year Old Highland

John Grant, born in 1805, purchased Glenfarclas Distillery in June 1865. To this day, Glenfarclas Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is distilled and matured at the Grant family owned and run distillery. Glenfarclas, which nestles at the foot of the Ben Rinnes Mountain, from Gaelic translates as “glen of the green grassland”. At 60 per cent alcohol this has brute strength and yet has an overlay of sherry sweetness to tame it enough for pure enjoyment. Assertive and dry with spice and smoke, it’s long and full on the palate. Warming and smooth despite the searing alcohol, it’s quite dramatic.

Tomintoul 16 Years Old Speyside GlenlivetDunkeld Atholl BroseTomintoul 16 Year Old Speyside Glenlivet

Tomintoul Distillery is located near to the village of Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands of Scotland in the prestigious Glenlivet Estate at the heart of the Speyside region. The high altitude, pure air and fine water from the Ballantruan Spring, combine to create the special quality of Tomintoul – the gentle dram. Master distiller Robert Fleming has created an aromatic, yet complex and elegant whisky with this. It has spices, marmalade, barley and touch of florals with a candied ginger and orange peel finish. A dram that fascinates to the end.

Dunkeld Atholl Brose Liqueur

This liqueur is commonly sipped to nicely cap off a Robbie Burns Dinner. A blend of single malt, herbs, spices and honey, inspired by an ancient Highland recipe, it’s sweet but not too. Minty, menthol notes combine with candied orange, tangerine, honey, cinnamon and clove aromas and flavours for a warming liqueur with a subtle cloak of whisky.

Balblair Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky 2001anCnoc 12 Year Old Single MaltAnCnoc 12 Year Old Single Malt

Knockdhu Distillery established in 1894 is one of the smallest in the Scottish Highlands. Nearby Knock Hill, known by its Gaelic name anCnoc, is the source of the pure spring water for the whisky. Very aromatic with the perfume of honey and heather in the bouquet, it’s sweet and fruity with a smooth finish. Some smoke, nuttiness and malt add complexities. Very few bottles are left as of mid-January 2013 so buy now if interested.

Balblair Single Highland Malt 2001

The first release of this vintage, natural colour, non-chill filtered, from a distillery established in 1790. It’s full bodied, malty and fruity, with a bouquet that’s fruit forward with floral notes. The maturation in ex-bourbon casks comes forth on the palate as toffee and vanilla. The alcohol strength at 46 per cent is in harmony with the body and soul of the dram. The finish is long and fruity touched by spice and toffee.

For all of Margaret Swaine’s reviews:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits
Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks

Bowmore 12 Years Old Islay Single Malt

Rosehill Wine Cellars