Whisky Magazine Issue 68
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Ian R Mitchell looks at the relationship between two Scottish icons, the national bard and the national dram.
Shortly after his death in 1796 Robert Burns emerged as the undisputed national bard of Scotland. The foundation of the first Burns Club took place in 1801. This was the Greenock Burns Club, later known as the Mither Club.
As such clubs spread, Burns' Suppers soon became a national event (at least in Lowland Scotland) on Burns Nicht, held on the anniversary of the poet's birthday, the 25th of January. Round about the same time, whisky also emerged as the national dram of Scotland. Though it had been distilled for several centuries, it had taken much longer for whisky to gain that pre-eminent affection in Scotland quickly achieved by Burns.
For centuries the preferred drink of the upper classes was claret, and that of the poor “tippenny”, a cheap ale, but whisky gradually emerged as the favoured alcohol in the country.
This is reflected in Burns' poetry, where his praise of the craitur out-matches his praise of any other form of alcohol. Indeed, at a Burns Supper anywhere in the world, it would be unthinkable to toast the haggis with anything other than whisky, the poet's favourite beverage.
Few, if any, poets have sung the praises of whisky as did Robert Burns. Just as he had claimed that many Scots virtues – such as martial valour – stemmed from the consumption of the national dish, the humble haggis, so Rabbie attributed several benefits to the consumption of whisky. The first of these was good health. Duncan Forbes of Culloden had had his distillery burnt by Ja...