Most nations like a good excuse for a booze-fuelled get-together and for Scots, 25 January provides one such occasion as they celebrate the birth of national poet Robert Burns.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself amidst a traditional Burns Night celebration, then it’s possible you’ll encounter any number of Scottish cultural cliches that include bagpipes, ceilidhs, tartan kilts, haggis, poetry recitals and, of course, booze, of which whisky is likely to be the toasting drink of choice.
However, it’s equally likely that it’s the only booze that will be on display and, being the multicultural country Scotland is, the locally produced drinks will almost certainly be more varied than scotch alone.
To help you celebrate Burns Night in style, we’ve suggested a wide range of drinks, each one produced with the kind of craftsmanship that we think would inspire the great man into poetic raptures.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
The Botanist gin, 46%: £31.90 for 70cl, Master of Malt
For a taste of wild Scotland, whisk your taste buds over to a glass of The Botanist’s dry gin. It’s a magical, mystical creation containing 22 botanicals hand-plucked from the Islay landscape and lovingly distilled along with classic gin ingredients. Cool floral flavours drift among fresh citrus notes while hints of spice punctuate its smooth texture. The only downside? G&T lovers may struggle to find a tonic good enough to pair it with.
Drambuie, 40%: £26 for 70cl, Morrisons
Perhaps the most famous of all Scottish liqueurs, Drambuie is a heady mix of aged scotch whisky with smooth heather honey and warming spices. It's most commonly found waltzing with a whisky accompaniment in the sporran-rousing “rusty nail” cocktail but its complex, herbal flavours work just as well poured neat over ice. Slainte.
Atholl Brose, 35%: £22.25 for 50cl, The Whisky Exchange
Inspired by a traditional Highland recipe, this ambrosial, golden liqueur uses Speyside single malt as a base. Honeyed notes of gingerbread, lavender and cinnamon skip on the tongue, and the addition of oatmeal gives it a velvety smooth mouthfeel. It’s the perfect fireside sipper and hip flask filler, and will soothe the lips of the most fervent bagpipe player.
Dark Matter spiced rum, 40%: £30.89 for 70cl, Drink Supermarket
Scotland may not have much in common with the Caribbean but, as of 2015, both can claim authentic rum distilleries. Dark Matter is a molasses-based rum, distilled in Aberdeenshire and powerfully spiced, delivering gingery, peppery heat with some fruity cinnamon and allspice notes. Great served on its own or tamed with ginger beer or cola, its natural warmth means a Caribbean climate is definitely not required.
Bruadar, 22%: £19.45 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
This is a highly sippable Perthshire liqueur. The addition of sloes brings a tart hedgerow fruitiness to proceedings, while the honey mellows the single malt burn. At 22 per cent it’s relatively forgiving for a whisky-based liqueur, but a wee dram or two of this will calm pre-ceilidh nerves and will add height and panache to any attempted Highland fling.
Edinburgh Gin rhubarb a ginger liqueur, 20%: £14.99 for 50cl, 31Dover
When we heard that Edinburgh’s ace boozologists had been tinkering with rhubarb, our ears pricked up. The pink vegetable-that-thinks-it’s-a-fruit is one of the finest ingredients you can plunge into alcohol and the Scottish distiller has given it the ultimate accolade by infusing it in its excellent craft gin. Also invited to the party is ginger, lending some subtle warmth to the delicate rhubarb tartness, while still allowing the gin’s spicy juniper flavours to make their presence known. A beautiful balancing act that makes for an exceptional liqueur.
Ogilvy potato vodka, 40%: £34.95 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
The “ploughman poet” would heartily approve of this creamy, earth-born vodka. Tatties grown on farmland a short tractor ride from Glamis Castle are minced and mashed before being ushered through the hubble and bubble of Ogilvy’s column pot still. The result is a rich, warming, spud-tastic booze with hints of citrus and a long, mellow, pepper-flecked finish.
Traquair Jacobite ale, 8%: £70 per case, Traquair
According to one Robbie Burns poem, “Good ale makes me sell my hose/Sell my hose, and pawn my shoes” – in which case there’s every chance he surrendered his socks (hose) for a beer like this. Based on an 18th century recipe, and brewed to celebrate the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, it’s a strong, spiced ale – full of fruity flavours with a vinous quality and shades of coriander. A very good ale indeed.
Swannay Brewery island hopping, 3.9%: £2.95 for 500ml, Swannay Brewery
Most of the drinks in this list are laced with a fair amount of alcohol, so if you’re looking for something more sessionable, then try this pale ale. It comes from the remote Orkney Islands and gets its hoppy flavours from New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin hops. It’s a quaffable ale with notes of lemon and hay and a touch of honey in the background, finishing with the kind of dry bitterness that can turn a swig into a session.
GlenDronach grandeur batch 10, 50.1%: £550, The Whiskey Exchange
If money is no object and you’re after an extra special new whisky to fill your toasting glass, then Speyside distillery GlenDronach’s latest limited edition release will fit the bill. Bottled from the distillery’s oldest sherry casks, this 27-year-old single malt is rammed full of fruity pleasures, including rich plums and cherries, all layered in sherry-heaven, and has an indulgent dark chocolate twist to finish.
Glenfiddich IPA cask whisky, 43%: £43.95 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange
Whisky distilleries are increasingly willing to experiment in order to grab the attention of drinks buyers in search of something new. A recently successful whisky twist was provided by Glenfiddich, who worked with Speyside Brewery to age a specially brewed IPA in casks before emptying them out and replacing the contents with whisky. The infusions from the hoppy beer aren’t obvious but there’s citrussy lightness to the spirit that could be claimed are influenced by the beer. Regardless of its overall effect, it’s a mighty fine and unique whisky.
Thistly Cross whisky cask cider, 6.9% ABV: £2.99 for 330ml, The Pit Stop
Leave a cider to age in an old spirit cask and it’ll inherit nutty tannins and flavours from the booze-soaked wood. Pilton’s Tamoshanta, a Somerset-made keeved cider is an exceptional example, but we’re sticking north of the border for a cider to grace our Burns Night table. Thistly Cross whisky cask has been aged in Glen Moray barrels, which adds a layer of vanilla malt to an already decent cider. It’s quite sweet, but this is balanced by acidity and a fulsome, fruity bite that will match perfectly with your hearty haggis dinner.
The verdict: Scottish drinks for Burns Night
Whisky may be the traditional taste of Scotland, but the local botanicals in The Botanist’s brilliant gin make it our choice for a wilder drink this Burns night.