A Guide to Burns Night Traditions

On or around the 25th of January, Whisky fans will come together all around the world to celebrate the life and times of arguably Scotland’s most famous poet and lyricist, Robert “Rabbie” Burns. Want to host your own Burns Supper? Look no further - consult our handy guide to Burns Night traditions!

Who was Robert Burns?

Robert Burns is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. Born in 1759, Burns initially worked as a labourer on his parents’ farm, but by the age of 27 had risen to fame as a poet, fuelled by the inspiration of love, nature and in some instances, Whisky too!

Burns enjoyed a colourful life, experiencing the highs and lows of wealth, enjoying a number of romantic relationships and even spending a stint as an Excise Officer for the government – a career that would influence his political views and serve as a motivator for some of his most prolific poems.

Sadly, Robert Burns’ high-energy lifestyle prove to be detrimental and ultimately led to poor health and eventual death on the 21st of July, 1796 at the age of just 37.


Why do we celebrate Burns Night?

The first Burns Night took place five years after Burns’ death, held by close friends on the birthday of the Bard to remember his life’s work. Over the centuries, the tradition has been upheld by fans around the world – growing to become an event celebrated internationally.


Burns Night Traditions

Burns suppers can be held in both formal and informal settings, but no matter the setting, they will typically follow a “standard order” of events.

Arrival of Guests

Traditionally, guests will be greeted by a piper, however, in more relaxed settings this may be swapped out for traditional Scottish music. A piper will usually be present for most of the evening – as his or her skills are often required later!

The Welcome

Once all guests have arrived, the host will open the evening with a few welcoming words, followed by the Selkirk Grace – a famous thanksgiving delivered in Scots language. The Selkirk Grace is considered not to be the creation of Burns – instead, the association was formed as the result of Burns delivering it at a nobleman’s dinner.

The Haggis

The evening moves on to the arrival of the Haggis – a traditional Scottish dish composed of meat, spices and oatmeal – a food that Robert Burns paid tribute to in one of his most popular poems – “Address to a Haggis”. Guests are asked to stand, as the haggis is serenaded in by a piper. A guest or the host will then recite the respective poem and at the correct verse make a theatrical cut into the haggis. Guests will then be invited to toast the haggis before it is piped out to the kitchen to be prepared to serve. A three-course Scottish themed menu will follow, accompanied by copious amounts of Whisky.

The Entertainment and Immortal Memory

Once the meal is over, a programme of entertainment will follow – often kicking off with a performer or musician reciting a well-known Burns’ creation. This is then followed by “the Immortal Memory” – a speech eulogising Burns’ work, followed by a toast to his life.

A series of toasts will come after – such as the “Address to the Lassies” – an appreciation of thanks, usually given by a male speaker. Traditionally, this thanks would refer to the women who had prepared the Burns meal, but today it is often an amusing and good-natured speech celebrating ladies, followed by a toast. A “Reply to Laddies” follows in a similar vein, this time delivered by a female guest in equal humour, often responding to the points raised by the speaker previous. After this bantering exchange, more recitals of Burns poetry will follow, finished off by closing words of thanks from the host and a rendition of Burns’ song, Auld Lang Syne, making a memorable night for all involved.


Celebrating Burns Night with Whisky

It’s no secret that Burns’ was a devoted drinker of Scotch Whisky – making his time as an Exciseman customs officer (tax man) something of an irony. In fact, Burns loved Whisky so much, that he proclaimed his love for a good dram and his disdain for the government (and their taxes) in several of his poems, but perhaps most notably that of “Scotch Drink”. If you’re planning to celebrate the life and times of Burns, then only the finest liquid gold will do! Why not try one of our recommended drams?


Timorous Beastie 12 Years Old

Timorous Beastie 12 Years Old

Such an outspoken and iconic figure of Scottish history deserves to be immortalised in Whisky form – so, when we launched our “Vatted” Highland Remarkable Regional Malt in 2014, we took inspiration from Burns’ poem “To a Mouse” and named our heavenly honeyed Highlander “Timorous Beastie”.

Earlier this month, we released a brand new limited edition expression: Timorous Beastie 12 Years Old – presented as golden amber nectar offering up a palate of creamy honey, buttered bread and sweet Malt. We can’t help but think the Bard would have most definitely approved!

 Old Particular Auchentoshan 18 Years Old

Old Particular Auchentoshan 18 Years Old

Our Old Particular Auchentoshan 18 Years Old is a stunning example of a fresh Lowlander – the Scotch Whisky Region in which Burns spent most of his life. Drammers can expect a light and elegant palate followed a Cream Soda style finish. Bottled from a Single Cask, only 251 bottles of this scrumptious dram exist!

 XOP Garnheath 44 Years Old

XOP Garnheath 44 Years Old

An outstanding poet deserves a fine dram! Our XOP Garnheath 44 Years Old Single Grain suits the occasion! A palate of buttery croissants, raspberry jam, icing sugar and slight spice would offset a serving of haggis nicely.

No plans for Burns Supper this year? Why not watch our Regional Sales Manager, David Ferguson, explore our latest limited edition release, Timorous Beastie 12 Years Old and Burns’ connection to Whisky over on YouTube?