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The Highlands had a tradition of illicit stills, with artfully-hidden machinery bubbling away in hidden corners of quiet glens.

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What the hell is haggis and why would anyone of sound mind and stomach want the awful stuff?

Biblitz replies

Is it any wonder Frenchmen scoff at this strange Celtic tribe?

A Taste of the Past

Menus from Lavish Luncheons, Royal Weddings, Indulgent Dinners and History's Greatest Banquets

By John Lane

... Burns suppers have been part of the Scottish culture for over 200 years as a means of commemmorating their (Scotland's) best-loved poet. And when Burns immortalized haggis in verse he created a link that maintained to this day. Close friends of Burns started the ritual a few years after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory, and the basic format for the evening has remained unchanged since that time.

The company are asked to stand to receive the haggis. A piper then leads the chef carrying the haggis to the top of the table, while the guests accompany them with a slow handclap. The invited guest then recites Burns's famous poem To a Haggis. When he reaches the line 'an cut you up wi' ready slight,' he cuts open the haggis with a sharp knife. It is customary for the company to applaud the speaker, then stand again and toast the haggis with a glass of whisky.

Haggis is really just a rather unusual sausage. It is cooked in a sheep's stomach bag, and consists of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, chopped onion, pinhead oatmeal, shredded beef suet, salt, pepper and other flavourings to taste. Sometimes nutmeg, cayenne pepper and other spices are added. The bag is sewn up very securely and then boiled for three hours. Haggis usually served with bashed neeps (mashed swede) and champit tatties (mashed potatoes).

A traditional Burns Night supper always begins with cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek soup). ... The haggis always served with whisky, though wine might be drunk with the rest of the meal. Roly poly is a steamed suet pudding with jam, and kibbuck is an old name for cheese. (-- p. 133)

Burns eccentrically (drunkenly, more like) singing its praises:

Address To a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit" hums.

Is there that o're his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect scunner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whistle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thristle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!


Celtic Gold
After years in the shadow of their Scottish cousins, Irish whiskeys have come into their own.
May, 2009

The Irish, on the other hand, had no need to monkey around with blending. Traditional, unblended Irish whiskey was already cheaper to make, smoother, and cleaner tasting than traditional Scottish malt whisky and yet had far more body and flavor than the insipid grain whisky. That circumstance owed to a handful of differences in the way the Irish did things: they used much larger, more economical pot stills; the used hot air rather than pungent peat smoke to dry their malt; and they usually mixed their malted barley with raw barley, oats and rye, which added a pleasing undertone of bright, spicy graininess. ...

... By the late '90s, sales of Irish whiskey were growing faster than those of any other kind. All three distilleries (Bushmills, Midleton and Cooley) were starting to export premium whiskeys long aged in oak that could compete with fine Scotches and at significantly lower prices.

Ten years on, things have only improved. ....

Taken together, these whiskeys are as refined a group of spirits as I've ever tasted. They're also remarkably consistent in character, with a sweet graininess in the nose, a sherry's muskiness on the tongue, and only a hint of sting in the tail to remind you that you're drinking liquor. ... ( -- David Wondrich, pgs. 27-28)
Seven to try include in order: Clontarf Classic Blend, Connemara Cask Strength Peated Single Malt, Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve, Knappogue Castle 1995 Single Malt Whiskey, Midleton Very Rare 2008 Vintage, Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt Whiskey and Redbreast 12 Year Old Pure Pot Still Whisky. Prices range from $20 (Clontarf) to $134 (Midleton).


Hard to imagine a worse combination - boiled oatmeal and insufficiently seasoned organ meat steamed to despair in the guts of a blameless old sheep. Ugh! What follows is the real reason these Burns Night festivities continue to infect the Biblitz premises.


Water of Life

Do you like a peaty Islay single malt or a lighter Lowland taste? Scotland's national drink is now a worldwide favorite and England and Wales are getting in on the game. Join us in raising a glass and wishing 'good health' to whisky as we take a tour of some of the finest distilleries around Britain.

By David McIvey
July, 2009

Whisky is first recorded in 1494; James IV, in residence at Falkland Palace, commissioned the monks of Lindores Abbey to produce some aqua vitae or 'water of life'. The Gaelic for 'water of life' is uisge beatha which, if you pronounce it correctly, sounds a bit like 'whisky' and so is the probable source of the name.

Of course, the monks of Lindores and many others had probably been producing the spirit long before James' order was committed to paper and the spirit continued to be popular. The Scottish Parliament imposed its first duty on whisky in 1644; some would say it's been downhill ever since in that department. The tide of taxation increased after the Union of 1707 and Robert Burns, the great celebrant of whisky 'Whisky and freedom gang thegither''! worked as an exciseman for a while - a classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper.

The Highlands had a tradition of illicit stills, with artfully-hidden machinery bubbling away in hidden corners of quiet glens. Over the years, taxation and more effective policing gradually squeezed out home-produced firewater and the industry became commercialised, with many of the distilleries and brands we know today emerging during the 19th century. Fine gentlemen in the new Scottish sporting estates took to the native spirit with relish. Scots migrating abroad often took their whisky-distilling skills with them but also helped to form an overseas market for the product. As the British Empire expanded, uisge beatha became a popular ex-pats' tipple in the pink-coloured bits of the map. Whisky was beginning to conquer the world.

In the early years of the Second World War, arms and equipment flowed into the United Kingdom from the United States. Payment was made where possible, though sometimes in kind rather than cash. Whisky was an understandably popular medium of exchange that Uncle Sam welcomed heartily. Not all of this payment-in-spirit arrived, though; in 1941, the SS Politician, carrying thousands of bottles of whisky for export to the USA, foundered off Eriskay. Much of the cargo was spirited away by locals, and the incident inspired Compton Mackenzie's 1947 novel Whisky Galore and the 1949 Ealing film.

A dram is any individual serving of any whisky. The most celebrated whisky products are the single malts: spirit produced from malted barley, casked, matured and bottled on a single site with no additions from elsewhere. Scotch whisky blends are combinations of spirits from different locations, some made from malted barley and some from other grains. Many popular brands - Johnny Walker, The Famous Grouse, White Horse - are blends. Note that native uisge beatha is, correctly, 'whisky'; American and Irish product is 'whiskey', with the distinguishing 'e'; bourbon, incidentally, is produced mainly from corn. Canadian whisky also omits the 'e' as do some more surprising producers.(-- pgs. 60-63)