The best boutique Scotch whiskies for Burns Night
“The whisky of this country is a most rascally liquor,” wrote Robert Burns, the Scottish poet after whom the night of January 25 is named. “And, by consequence, it is only drank by the most rascally part of the inhabitants.”
We couldn’t agree more. A spirit for the rogues and rapscallions of Britain, Scotch whisky is brazenness bottled. So, if you’re feeling particularly rascally this Burns Night, it’ll pay to invest in a good, patriotic bottle. You can sip it on your Zoom calls, swill it with your haggis and be swigging it by the time you’re reciting Rabbie’s finest lines and lyrics.
Boutique bottles are best for this; bold limited editions or the confident offerings of smaller distilleries. We’ve tasted and tested our way through some of the most spirited spirits Scotland has to offer, and can guarantee — with sound minds and throbbing heads — that these are the best bottles for Burns Night.
Back in the 19th century — just a shade after Robert Burns’ day — Scotch whisky was distilled to be strong, flavourful and wincingly potent. The master blenders over at Compass Box decided that this was how whisky should be, and created a ‘Glasgow Blend’ of their Great King Street Spirit. And, boy, is it something.
As rich as the red of its label, the Glasgow Blend is packed full of flavour, with a rich vein of peaty-smokiness, underpinned by sherry cask-aged whiskies. Full of dried fruit and wine character, there are also notes of baking spices on the nose. And, for a cultural touch, the label also features Glasgow’s Wellington Statue, complete with traffic cone hat — a symbol of the city’s sense of humour.
You could buy this Scotch for the bottle alone. Eden Mill’s 2019 Release Single Malt is beautifully packaged — its design a collaboration with local Fife artist Hilke MacIntyre and an interpretation of the landmarks of St Andrews. But enough about the bottle, the whisky inside is also worth shouting about. On the nose, you’ll get whiffs of sherry, vanilla fudge and hints of spiciness. And that’s before you even take a sip.
When you do get your lips around it, they’ll enjoy a balance of sweet, light toasted fruits and hints of both cocoa and caramelised biscuits. Malty-sweet, this is a sipping whisky — perhaps one for after your Burns Night supper. Take the bottle over to the piano, and then savour the peppery cassia finish after you’ve had a further sip and a sing-song.
Who doesn’t love a bit of mystery? We know we do — and we’d wager Robert Burns would have also been a firm fan of this enigmatic bottling. Infrequent Flyers is a 27-Year-Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Distilled in 1992 at a mystery distillery in Speyside and matured in a single barrel, it was bottled in October 2019. So this will be only the second — and, if we have our way, final Burns Night it will ever see.
This is such a boutique bottling that we don’t really know anything about it past that. It could taste like anything. But, hailing from the wilds of Speyside, we can’t see it being anything less than a fitting tribute to Rabbie. So raise a glass: To mystery! To poetry! To Infrequent Flyers!
One for those with deep pockets — and an even deeper love of good whisky — this edition of The Kinship doesn’t come cheap. But the Laphroaig 18-Year-Old single malt spent 18 years in a single refill oloroso sherry butt, before being bottled in 2019 in a limited edition. It’s exclusive, expensive and incredibly exciting.
Intoxicating, too. At 56.4% this sweet, rich whisky is a liquid guarantee of a merry Burns Night. On the palate, it is a lyrical swirl of liquorice, toffee and nuts — with a touch of melodic, silky caramel and a subtle sherry finish. Surprisingly smooth for such a strong Scotch: there are no burns here — except for the poetry, of course.
It isn’t often that a whisky’s core flavour is described as ‘marinated meat on the grill’. But we’re glad that Elements of Islay came along with such a surprising Scotch. Its Ardbeg-derived Ar11 has undergone almost two decades of ageing — but still it has not been tamed. Limited to 840 bottles, it smells like incense thrown on a log fire, tastes like burning cloves and glazed ribs and has a long, bittersweet chocolate espresso finish.
In fact, the Ar11’s meaty qualities make it the perfect dram to serve alongside your haggis this Burns Night. The savoury tang will bring out the salt of the meat, before the fruity notes of plum jam and dried blackcurrants come through to sweeten every mounting mouthful. A real experience of a whisky.
That’s right — another Glasgow edition. But Burns was born under 40 miles from Scotland’s second city, so we feel like he’d appreciate it. And, when a whisky tastes as good as Whisky Work’s 29-Year-Old Glaswegian, who cares where it’s from? Matured in White Oak barrels, this Scotch has a wonderful sweet taste with flavours of rich butterscotch, delicate vanilla and exotic fruit.
A classic whisky in many ways — and utterly innovative in others — it comes from a now-silent grain distillery which once stood at the heart of Scotland’s waterways. And, while you savour its caramelised crème brulee finish, appreciate its rarity; there are only 1,642 bottles in existence.
In past years of whisky production, thirsty distillery workers used to sneak home snifters of the Scotch they were making. A small flask was typically used to smuggle the spirit out; slender and carried by a long chain. Its name? A copper dog. Today, to celebrate those early rascals (wouldn’t Rabbie be proud?) this new Speyside single malt is a fittingly tasty tribute to the tradition.
On the nose, Copper Dog is thankfully less metallic than its namesake — instead offering up honeyed cereal, peach, pear and dried apple. It’s less fruity to taste — look for notes of nutty malts, simmering spices and chocolate. And, as you call Burns Night a night, enjoy a syrupy, pastry-sweet finish. A glass-raiser, if ever there was one.