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Burns Night Preparation

"‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy;
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.’"

~ Scotch Drink, Robert Burns, 1786

Getting ready to attend or host your own Burns Supper? Here's a tartan to wear when contemplating what liquor to serve or bring to the celebration. Aside from your own favorite brand, might you be interested in a special tasting option for your thirsty guests ready to celebrate Scotland's National Poet? Let's take a cue from the man himself. According to legend, Robert Burns was introduced to whisky at the age of 22, when working as an apprentice in the flax-dressing trade in the Ayrshire town of Irvine, prior to taking up farming for a living. Whisky references abound in his poetry, as well as being a main subject and a stand in for metaphor for freedom and rebellion, but sometimes a particular distillery is named, though perhaps not for its smooth character. In his poem The Jolly Beggars (1785), Burns names a specific distillery, namely ‘...dear Kilbagie’. The poem was inspired by a visit made by Burns and a friend to Poosie Nansie’s Tavern in Mauchline. The tavern catered to a rustic clientele. Situated at Kincardine, close to the River Forth, their whisky was distilled in shallow stills which could be run off in a matter of minutes, and the ‘make’ was renowned for its harshness! Some claimed the spirits produced were ’only fitted for the most vulgar and fire loving palates’. And Burns himself describes Kilbagie’s whisky as “the most rascally liquor and in consequence only drunk by the most rascally part of the inhabitants”. No longer produced, there are plenty of tribute whisky choices referencing the Ploughman Poet or his poetry including: Robert Burns Single Malt from the Isle of Arran; 1970s Robbie Burns Blended Scotch from R.H. Thomson & Co of Edinburgh (rare); Sweet Afton, Tam O'Shanter, Cutty Sark, and one of the newer poetic offerings created with highland single malts, "Timorous Beastie", described as having a “sweet, heather honey and Highland character”. Designed for a product range of miniature malt whiskies called Rabbie’s Dram, this tartan uses the following colours: Amber to represents the whisky and Green for the bottles. The whisky barrels, with six iron hoops, are represented by the dark brown and black. Green and the amber also double as the growth cycle of the barley. Be bold and choose your whisky wisely, timorous beasties! Slainte! 🥃 🐁 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

This tartan was designed by Brian Wilton for a product range of miniature malt whiskies called Rabbie’s Dram.

Many of Burns’ poems and songs feature good fellowship, high spirits (with spirits), and general fortification for life's many vicissitudes with a bit of liquor.  Here are a few excerpts:

He specifically writes in praise of whisky in his epic tale Tam O’Shanter, declaring that:

‘Inspiring bold John Barleycorn [whisky]!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi' tippeny [tuppenny ale], we fear nae evil;
Wi' usquabae [whisky], we’ll face the devil!’

Scotch Drink (1785)

Gie him strong drink until he wink, 
That's sinking in despair; 
An' liquor guid to fire his bluid, 
That's prest wi' grief and care: 
There let him bouse, an' deep carouse, 
Wi' bumpers flowing o'er, 
Till he forgets his loves or debts, 
An' minds his griefs no more.
     Solomon's Proverbs, xxxi. 6, 7.

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! 

Let husky wheat the haughs adorn, 
An' aits set up their awnie horn, 
An' pease and beans, at e'en or morn, 
Perfume the plain: 
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn, 
Thou king o' grain! 

On thee aft Scotland chows her cood, 
In souple scones, the wale o'food! 
Or tumblin in the boiling flood 
Wi' kail an' beef; 
But when thou pours thy strong heart's blood, 
There thou shines chief. 

Food fills the wame, an' keeps us leevin; 
Tho' life's a gift no worth receivin, 
When heavy-dragg'd wi' pine an' grievin; 
But, oil'd by thee, 
The wheels o' life gae down-hill, scrievin, 
Wi' rattlin glee. 

Thou clears the head o'doited Lear; 
Thou cheers ahe heart o' drooping Care; 
Thou strings the nerves o' Labour sair, 
At's weary toil; 
Though even brightens dark Despair 
Wi' gloomy smile. 

Aft, clad in massy siller weed, 
Wi' gentles thou erects thy head; 
Yet, humbly kind in time o' need, 
The poor man's wine; 
His weep drap parritch, or his bread, 
Thou kitchens fine. 

Thou art the life o' public haunts; 
But thee, what were our fairs and rants? 
Ev'n godly meetings o' the saunts, 
By thee inspired, 
When gaping they besiege the tents, 
Are doubly fir'd. 

That merry night we get the corn in, 
O sweetly, then, thou reams the horn in! 
Or reekin on a New-year mornin 
In cog or bicker, 
An' just a wee drap sp'ritual burn in, 
An' gusty sucker! 

When Vulcan gies his bellows breath, 
An' ploughmen gather wi' their graith, 
O rare! to see thee fizz an freath 
I' th' luggit caup! 
Then Burnewin comes on like death 
At every chap. 

Nae mercy then, for airn or steel; 
The brawnie, banie, ploughman chiel, 
Brings hard owrehip, wi' sturdy wheel, 
The strong forehammer, 
Till block an' studdie ring an reel, 
Wi' dinsome clamour. 

When skirling weanies see the light, 
Though maks the gossips clatter bright, 
How fumblin' cuiffs their dearies slight; 
Wae worth the name! 
Nae howdie gets a social night, 
Or plack frae them. 

When neibors anger at a plea, 
An' just as wud as wud can be, 
How easy can the barley brie 
Cement the quarrel! 
It's aye the cheapest lawyer's fee, 
To taste the barrel. 

Alake! that e'er my muse has reason, 
To wyte her countrymen wi' treason! 
But mony daily weet their weason 
Wi' liquors nice, 
An' hardly, in a winter season, 
E'er Spier her price. 

Wae worth that brandy, burnin trash! 
Fell source o' mony a pain an' brash! 
Twins mony a poor, doylt, drucken hash, 
O' half his days; 
An' sends, beside, auld Scotland's cash 
To her warst faes. 

Ye Scots, wha wish auld Scotland well! 
Ye chief, to you my tale I tell, 
Poor, plackless devils like mysel'! 
It sets you ill, 
Wi' bitter, dearthfu' wines to mell, 
Or foreign gill. 

May gravels round his blather wrench, 
An' gouts torment him, inch by inch, 
What twists his gruntle wi' a glunch 
O' sour disdain, 
Out owre a glass o' whisky-punch 
Wi' honest men! 

O Whisky! soul o' plays and pranks! 
Accept a bardie's gratfu' thanks! 
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks 
Are my poor verses! 
Thou comes-they rattle in their ranks, 
At ither's a-s! 

Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost! 
Scotland lament frae coast to coast! 
Now colic grips, an' barkin hoast 
May kill us a'; 
For loyal Forbes' charter'd boast 
Is ta'en awa? 

Thae curst horse-leeches o' the' Excise, 
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize! 
Haud up thy han', Deil! ance, twice, thrice! 
There, seize the blinkers! 
An' bake them up in brunstane pies 
For poor damn'd drinkers. 

Fortune! if thou'll but gie me still 
Hale breeks, a scone, an' whisky gill, 
An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will, 
Tak a' the rest, 
An' deal't about as thy blind skill 
Directs thee best.

For more on whisky drinker Burns, click the picture one of the tribute namesake whiskies!

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