What whiskies should you drink on Burns Night? Any Scotch whisky will do, although if you want to be historically accurate then look to single malt, cask strength offerings, ideally Sherry cask matured and ones that have some peated malt in their mash bills.
Neither blended whisky nor vatted malts existed in 1796. Blended whisky wasn’t legalized until William Gladstone, Minister of the Exchequer, in the Palmerston/Peel government introduced the Spirits Act of 1865. Whisky was a serious matter in mid-19th century Great Britain. Roughly one-third of the governments tax revenue in 1870 came from taxes on the manufacture or sale of alcoholic drinks.
At the time of Robert Burns, the only whisky available would have been single malt Scotch whisky, virtually all of which would have been bootleg. The exception would have been a few Lowland Distilleries, most of which would have been undrinkable anyway. It wasn’t until the enactment of the Excise Tax in 1823 that widespread legal Scotch whisky production was born.
Scotch was bottled at cask strength until WW I. The British government reduced the bottling proof to 40% ABV/80 proof to reduce drunkenness among munitions workers following their lunch or dinner breaks.
The whisky that would have been served at the first and subsequent Robbie Burns Dinner in the 19th century, would have been peated, at cask strength, and likely matured, if at all, in an ex-Sherry cask.
A few whisky brands that can allow you to experience whisky from 1796:
- Glen Scotia Victoriana / Double Cask, Single Malt Whisky
- Springbank, Cask Strength
- Loch Lomond
- Benriach Smoky
- Laphroaig Cask Strength
- Ben Nevis
- Glengoyne Cask Strength
Who was Robert Burns?
The national poet of Scotland is Robert Burns (1759-1796). He was a poet and lyricist who wrote in both Scotch Gaelic and English. A Scottish cultural icon, his poems are a bedrock of Scotland’s national identity. Among his many compositions are A Red, Red Rose, Tam O’ Shanter, Address to a Haggis, and of course, Auld Lang Syne.
Burns Night Celebration
The tradition of the Robbie Burns Dinner began five years after his death when a group of his devoted friends hosted a dinner to celebrate his life and work. The tradition caught on and was usually held on or around his birthday, January 25.
That date, often referred to as Robert Burns Day, has become Scotland’s unofficial National Day. In fact, it’s more widely celebrated in Scotland than the official national observance of St. Andrew’s Day.