THIS COURTESY OF THE WEEKLY DIG
HONEST PINT: BURNS NIGHT
It starts with a sword dance, involves reading an epic poem to a dish of heart, liver, and lungs, and is capped off with a jolly sing-a-long.
It’s Burns Night, the Scottish holiday that will carry away any winter doldrums with a dose of whisky and Scottish beer and a bagpipe serenade.
The celebration honors Robert Burns, the revered late 18th century Scottish poet who shaped Scotland’s identity with his early Romantic era poems of farm life, women, and religion.
Or, as Jason Waddleton, native Scot and owner of Jamaica Plain’s Scottish restaurant The Haven, describes him: He was “Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie, and William Shakespeare” all rolled into one poem-writing, farm-tending Scottish national treasure.
“He documented a lot of old folk songs from Scotland,” Waddleton says.
“He was political, he was ahead of his time, and philosophical as well.”
The Haven will be hosting seven Burns Suppers this year, from Burn’s birthday on Friday, January 25 to Tuesday, January 29. Waddleton gave me a thorough rundown of the evening, from the opening sword dance by the Boston Highland Dancers to a reading of Burn’s poem “To a Haggis,” which includes a dramatic stabbing of the haggis in the third verse.
“Basically, it’s saying how great it is, that haggis is the king of sausage, the best food eaten here, makes you feel strong, and if you want Scotland to get strong then eat the haggis,” says Waddelton.
The three-course dinner consists of Scotch broth, the haggis (a sausage-like dish made all in house, with oatmeal, kidney, liver, and heart), and neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes).
Finally, there is a “Toast to the Lassies,” as Burns was also well known for his womanizing tendencies and a ladies’ reply. The night concludes with Burns’s “Auld Lang Syne,” his best-known work.
So far, we’ve covered poetry, dancing, haggis, and singing: There must be beer too, right?
The Haven happens to be the best place in town to try Scottish beers—many of which would even be hard to find in Scotland. American beer drinkers accustomed to hoppy ales or dry Saisons will find little of that in traditional Scottish styles, which tend to be low in hops and high in malt, like the Scotch Ale or Scottish Heavy. Or, they might use bittering herbs like heather or myrtle for a Scottish gruit.
“It’s something you would have in The Hobbit,” says Waddleton of The Haven’s beer list, and he’s right. The beer descriptions sounds like a list of ingredients for a potion:
“Seductive dark ale with figs”; a “gooseberry, bog, myrtle and wheat ale”; “elderberry, oats, and barley druid ale.”
To pair with the haggis, Waddleton recommends a lighter Scottish beer like Scottish Session (3.9% ABV), or the creamy, dark, and smooth Traquair Jacobite Ale(8% ABV). For beginners who want to tackle The Haven’s six-draft line and 20-plus bottle selection, Waddleton suggests Old Jock, a 6.7% ABV rich and malty Wee Heavy, or the Kelpie (4.4% ABV), a seaweed and organic barley gruit ale.
But if you can’t make it to a Burns Night dinner, and aren’t prepared to tackle cooking haggis on your own,
You could start with well-known Scottish brands, like Innis & Gunn and their sweet-tasting flagship Oak Aged Beer (6.6% ABV) or the big and rum-heavy Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer (7.4% ABV). Scottish punks BrewDog offer more brash styles, like their Hardcore IPA (9.2% ABV) or the lesser in alcohol Punk IPA (5.6% ABV). Then there’s Belhaven Ale (5.2% ABV), a more classic malty style ale and the Belhaven Stout (7.1% ABV), both brewed at Belhaven Brewery near Dunbar, Scotland.
Wherever you are or whatever Scottish beer you’re drinking, toast Rabbie Burns—a man who loved his drink and country
Although several Burns Night suppers at the Haven have sold out, they will be releasing tickets for Friday, January 25 and Saturday, January 26 at 9pm. Tickets are $40 each. The late seatings will not include the dances as the young Boston Highland dancers will be in bed.
[The Haven, 2 Perkins St., Jamaica Plain. @TheHavenJP. thehavenjp.com]