Today at The Drunkard’s Almanac we’re mixing up the Bobby Burns cocktail for…well…Bobby Burns’ birthday on January 25. Properly that’s Robert Burns, also known as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire, the Ploughman’s Poet and other various epithets, at least if you were living in 18th century Scotland.
We’re informal here so we like to call him Bobby Burns, especially since it’s the name of the drink. And we need a Burns Night drink because his birthday is also the annual Burns Night celebration. What to drink for Burns Night? The Bobby Burns is the obvious choice.
Burns was born in 1759 and grew up largely in poverty as the son of tenant farmer parents. That didn’t lead to much regular schooling. His father was self-educated and taught Robert and his siblings reading, writing, math and history. That sounds promising, but his father also seemed quite prone to misfortune and died worn out and bankrupt in 1784. Robert had been the principal laborer on the farm since he turned 15, and watching his father beat down helped make him a rebel against the social order of the day and a bitter satirist of then-current religious and political thought.
Burns developed as an “occasional” poet after his father’s death in 1784. He turned to this to express love, friendship, or irony of the social milieu. He wrote for his own amusement, but remained restless and developed the reputation of being a dangerous rebel against organized religion.
In 1786 he published a volume of his poems in the nearby town of Kilmarnock. It was entitled Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect and was an immediate and overwhelming success. Both simple country folk and sophisticated critics in Edinburgh hailed it. He then also started writing his own songs and rewriting old ones.
You may ask why you should care. We see three reasons.
First, there’s little doubt you’ve been drunk and sang Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve more than once. We have Robert Burns to thank for this. He claimed to have learned some of the lyrics from an old man, but the song had never been written down before he did it.
Second, we have Burns Night. You may not think much of this if you’re not Scottish, but it’s an annual institution on his birthday. It’s a dinner full of pomp and ceremony and requires a variety of traditional Scottish dishes, most notably a haggis. Notwithstanding the fact that haggis isn’t exactly on everyone’s favorite things to eat list, if anything would inspire you to consume a dish of lamb offal, oatmeal and seasonings cooked in a sheep stomach it would be Burns night and prodigious amounts of whisky. After all, once the haggis is accompanied into the dining room by bagpipers an honored reader recites the Burns poem Address to the Haggis. This, of course, is accompanied by the aforementioned whisky.
Finally, we need a Burns Night cocktail and this fits the bill. It’s quite delicious and a few of them in quick succession may be helpful if you find a plate of haggis in front of you.
The Bobby Burns Cocktail
The Bobby Burns recipe has been around for a long time. According to Jim Meehan in Meehan’s Bartender Manual it first appeared in the 1900 edition of Fancy Drinks. Over the following years it evolved through such twists as Irish Whiskey (what?!?!), adjusted proportions or with its name just as “Bobby.” We think Harry Craddock had it right in his oft-referenced 1930 work, The Savoy Cocktail Book. There he wrote “One of the best Whisky Cocktails. A very fast mover on Saint Andrew’s Day.”
The drink itself bears some resemblance to the Rusty Nail we had for Jack Kerouac’s birthday, with sweet vermouth added. The recipe we show uses Mr. Meehan’s proportions, which are the same as Dale DeGroff in The Essential Cocktail.
Bobby Burns Cocktail
- 2 oz Scotch Whisky We recommend using a Highlands malt. Try to stay away from overly peaty whiskies from Islay.
- ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
- ½ oz Benedictine
- Garnish: Lemon twist, or if you feel like Dale DeGroff a side of shortbread cookies.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with lemon twist or side of shortbread cookies.
- Rinse and repeat as necessary, particularly if a haggis is in front of you.
I’ve only tried the version with 1 rather than 3/4 Sweet Vermouth; but, based upon your comments, and seeing it mentioned elsewhere, I’m ready to give it a go. I enjoyed today’s entry very much and would add only this: Folks traditionally toast with the phrase “Sláinte Mhath!” which translates to “Good Health!” – it’s pronounced “slanj-uh-va.”
Thank you! That is valuable info indeed for us non-Scots.
I’m glad it proved useful. It did to me as well as I also am a non-Scot, despite my Scottish first and middle names. I’m guessing you two and I more likely are all MOT. 🙂 By the way, I cited to your site in a FB Craft Cocktails post; I’ve no idea if that will develop more members here or not. Cheers!
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