Operators aren’t afraid to shake up the old traditions around Burns Night
IT’S traditionally one of the quietest times of the year; a post-festive lull when operators can take a breath and plan for the year ahead.
But across Scotland licensees are hoping to tempt customers back into the trade in January through a mixture of traditional and unorthodox Burns Night celebrations – as well as a good selection of whisky.
One of the tipples most often associated with the Bard, whisky will be central to many Burns Night events across Scotland (and the rest of the world).
It will certainly play a role in a rather offbeat Burns supper hosted by Dumfries pub The Globe Inn.
Said to have been a regular haunt of Burns during his time in the town, The Globe will be hosting ‘ten minute Burns suppers’ for its customers.
The events will see pub manager Jane Brown (herself a past president of the Robert Burns World Federation) take customers on a tour of the historic pub. During the tour they will be given a haggis pie (which is subsequently addressed, of course) and a dram of whisky.
The tours were launched several years ago to coincide with the introduction of local event the Big Burns Supper, which sees Burns-related events taking place across Dumfries.
“Considering some pubs in January die a death, we have Burns to give us a bit of life, and the Big Burns Supper is great for the town,” Jane told SLTN.
Similarly off-beat are the Burns Night plans at The Royal Arch in Broughty Ferry.
In addition to more traditional steps – such as hanging tartan and hiring an accordionist – the pub will host a ceremonial bottle-breaking event where an empty gallon bottle of Bell’s whisky, which has been used to collect money for a local charity, will be broken open and the funds (said to be around £500) handed over to a representative of the charity.
Owner Jonathan Stewart said the event harks back to a time when similar donations were common practice among community pubs.
“They were so frequent that every fortnight there’d be a photograph featured in the local paper,” he said.
And the bottle used to collect for the charity won’t be the only whisky bottle in demand on the night.
“It (Burns Night) creates a lot of interest in malt,” said Jonathan.
“I think on a Burns Night the lowlands malts are most popular, the likes of Auchentoshan or Bladnoch.”
In Scotland’s capital a more traditional, sit-down Burns supper is on the cards at Whiski Rooms.
The bar and restaurant will be hosting two sittings on Burns Night, with each diner provided a three-course meal of soup, haggis, neeps and tatties and cranachan, along with a dram of Talisker.
“Peaty, smoky whiskies seem to match well with haggis because haggis has quite an earthy flavour,” explained general manager Neal Davies.
“On our a la carte menu we offer Ardbeg Uigeadail, which is a good match as well but it’s a bit more powerful than the Talisker.
“Talisker and haggis, I think, go quite well together.
“They’ve both got those spicy, earthy flavours.”
In fact, the pairing of whisky and food can be a useful tool for introducing new drinkers to the spirit, said Neal.
“Talisker is not always necessarily the first whisky somebody should try, but the haggis mellows it down slightly,” he said.
“It’s not too powerful a whisky but someone trying whisky for the first time will usually select an anCnoc or maybe a Dalwhinnie – something’s that’s not quite as intense.
“But if you pair it with the food it mellows it down a bit.
“Having said that you can give someone an Ardbeg 10 for their first whisky and they might absolutely love it. That’s the thing about whisky – it’s completely subjective.”
Finding the right whisky for the customer is also a focus at Glasgow whisky pub The Pot Still.
Geraldine Murphy, who owns the pub with brother Frank and dad Brian, said well known whisky brands such as Glenfiddich and Auchentoshan (the closest distillery to the pub) tend to prove popular with customers who are new to the category.
But events such as whisky tastings can help the customer to find the exact style and flavours that suit their palate.
“I think whisky tastings help,” she said.
“It’s quite an informal evening, it’s quite good fun and they get to taste a couple of different drams to see what kind of flavours they like.
“If they don’t like one they might like another one, so it’s a good way to find out what you actually like and what you don’t.
“We usually do about five or six and try to pick ones that are quite different in flavour to show the range of different flavours you can have.”
The Pot Still will be running an all-day menu of haggis, neeps and tatties around Burns Night this year, with Arran Distillery’s Robert Burns single malt the pub’s malt of the month throughout January.
And although the Murphys haven’t run a beer-related event dedicated to Burns Night, Geraldine reckoned beer and whisky-matching could be another popular choice for pubs at the end of January.
Whether it’s a dedicated event or a small gesture, a little bit of effort can go a long way, according to Iain Hewitt, manager of Linlithgow pub Platform 3.
Though the pub will not be having a sit-down Burns supper, staff will be serving haggis, neeps and tatties on Burns Night, and whisky cocktails will be available for customers who prefer not to sip their whisky straight.
Iain said a similar effort for St Andrew’s Day paid dividends for the pub.
“For St Andrew’s Day we brought in some haggis and just dished out some plates,” he said.
“We had a big group of guys who’d been in from Falkirk.
“They couldn’t believe they were getting this. It’s fairly inexpensive – haggis and some mash. It doesn’t cost very much, and they all go away thinking ‘this is a fantastic wee pub’.
“They’ve all been back in since.
“It kind of begs the question of why people don’t do more of it just as a matter of course.”