Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris puts on her Highland dress and rolls out the tartan carpet to celebrate Burns Night.
By Sam Wylie-Harris
Burns Night tipples
In a life much storied, Robert Burns wrote hundreds of poems and folk songs, and January 25 is a great excuse to raise a glass to Scotland's most famous bard.
For a Friday night snifter to launch an evening of poetry and ditties, a whisky cocktail is a fitting tribute to the great man.
Smooth and warming, a hot toddy made with The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak (£34.49, 70cl, www.thewhiskyexchange.com), with its rich oakiness and lick of spice, will get the party started.
And to continue the celebration of his birthdate, here are some more hearty suggestions that chime with the occasion.
Bobby Burns hot toddy 50ml The Glenlivet 15 YO, juice of quarter of a lemon, 3 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, pinch of vanilla, runny honey to taste Cut the lemon into four pieces and crush the lemon into a rock glass. Add the honey, cloves, vanilla, whisky and top with hot water. Stir well, then add cinnamon stick and garnish with a lemon zest.
To jolly along your tavern friends, try Belgium beer Stefanus Blonde, which was originally brewed by monks. St Stefanus Blonde, Authentic Belgian Abbey Beer, Belgium (£2.59, 33cl, 7% abv, www.st-stefanus-shop.co.uk) is a fruity, honey blonde made from three yeast cultures. Refermented in the bottle, it's full bodied with a hoppy nose, creamy maltiness, a hint of cloves and slight bitterness on the finish.
Whether you decide on cock-a-leekie soup or smoked haddock chowder, a robust red will take you through to the haggis, neeps and tatties and complement a tartan theme.
Named in honour of the men who took refuge in the cellars of the Santa Rita estate during the Chilean War of Independence, The Patriots Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2009, Maipu Valley, Chile (£9.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) spends eight months in oak. Rich and powerful with silky blackberry and cassis, a hint of vanilla and a firm tannin structure, this terrific wine will suit Scotland's national dish down to a tee.
For another big red to match the strong flavours and spice of haggis, try a powerful Southern Rhone such as Gigondas 2009, Tradition, Domaine Santa Duc, France (£22.95, www.bbr.com). By no means a shy wallflower at 15.5% abv, this is a showy wine with succulent, sweet brambly fruit which dances on the tongue and comes across as slightly effervescent. Solid tannins will keep it all together while foodies dig into a second helping of baked tatties.
Whisky is the traditional drink for Burns suppers and a whiff of stardom surrounds Robert Burns Single Malt (£29.99, 70cl, www.arranwhisky.com). A special edition of The Arran Malt produced by whisky producer Isle of Arran Distillers, it's the official whisky commemorating the poet who was born just across the water from Arran in Ayrshire. Very smooth and quite gentle with fruity notes, good depth of flavour and a light maltiness on the mouthfeel, it's certainly in tune with this nostalgic evening.
Not available on the high street, Ballantine's 17 Year Old (£45.95, 70cl, www.thewhiskyexchange.com) is an award-winning Scotch that's easier to find in Europe than it is in the UK - quite ironic considering the range is one of the world's biggest selling whiskies by volume - but all the more satisfying when you get your hands on the precious drop. Rich and full bodied, this bottle is complemented by hints of wood and vanilla, and with a creamy body and honey and smoke on the lingering finish, it's worth nosing out for the cherished bagpipes ceremony.
Alternatively, to end the meal with a rousing rendition of Burns's most famous song, Auld Lang Syne, try a wee dram of Highland Park 18 Year Old (£69.99, 70cl, www.thewhiskyshop.com). Rich with a toffee sweetness, heathery smokiness and peaty finish, add a dash of still water to increase the aromas, enhance the flavours and fully appreciate this mature single malt from one of the oldest distilleries in the British Isles.
:: Best buy Inspired by American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, Crash Wines' range of premium bottles will certainly get the conversation flowing. The range includes Crash White (a blend of Spanish native white grapes), the fresh and fruity Crash Pink rose, and the soft and smooth Crash Red (a blend of tempranillo, syrah, grenache and garnacha tintorera). Each wine costs £8.99, or is available as a four-bottle gift pack for £30, from www.findwine.co.uk :: Liquid news A gin for all seasons... Gin lovers thirsty to discover more about this white spirit are being given the chance to visit some of their favourite London distilleries on Friday, February 1. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) will host the one-day tour, which includes visits and tastings to Beefeater, Sipsmith and Thames Distillers, as well as the chance to go behind the scenes to celebrate the spirit's history, and learn more about the recent rise in boutique gin distilleries. WSET Gin Ramble, with lunch at The Doodle Bar in Battersea and a mini gin cocktail masterclass, costs £95 per person. For more information, visit www.wsetschool.com