Burning Question: What Is Burns Night?

The people from Glenliv...Glenlivesh came thish morning wit' foor bottles of Scotsh--foor bottle!!!! An it wash at work, sho our editor jus hadto shut his fat mouf and watch us drink Scotsh. Foor bottle... four. An tol' him to fugg off...Wilonsky too.

[Editor's note: What they are trying to say is that a brand ambassador from The Glenlivet brought four bottles of their single malts, ranging from an 18 year to the spectacular 25, released just last fall. He came in advance of the 250th annual Burns Night celebration--the subject of this week's Burning Question.

Just what is Burns Night? Well, it's a more romantic excuse to party than the usual 'woo-hoo, it's Friday' or whatever other reasons people drum up: a toast to the life of the poet Robert Burns. You know, the guy who wrote...um...oh--the thing about haggis. And the New Year's Eve song, too.

"Burns was a common man," explains Mark Cronin, Glenlivet's brand ambassador, trying valiantly to revive members of the Burning Question crew. "One of his poems is 'a man's a man'"--which is not just a statement of the obvious, but an expression of the eroding effect time and memory have on the status of rich and poor. In the end, the lowliest of golf pros rates every bit the same as the mightiest mediocre Formula One driver. Or, as Cronin puts it, "the Scottish philosophy can best be described as 'that's not fair.'"

Like they were supposed to say if any of the crew were able to function right now, it's an excuse to drink.

But why associate Scotch and a poet. "He liked to drink," Cronin says--plain and simple. And why must celebrants subject themselves to haggis, the national dish presumably created to frighten off English invaders?

In his celebrated ode, Burns referred to this disturbing mass of offal and oats stuffed into a sheep's stomach and boiled as "cheiftan" of the "puddin' race." Then, in nauseating detail, he continued to outline the joys of haggis:

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut ye up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Clearly, he'd been through a few bottles himself. But, as Cronin explains, haggis was a cheap, everyman's food and Burns "was someone who celebrated the common man, the rustic, the farmer."

So every January 25th, Scots and those who want to drink like Scots gather for a traditional evening of good whisky--that's how they spell it--boiled innards and a few rounds of poetry. "It's huge," Cronin says. "Every club, every golf club, every society will have a Burns supper," which consists of the Selkirk Grace, a recitation of the haggis ode, a toast to the ladies ("fairly risque, he points out) and a speech in honor of the great commoner.

That, simply put, is Burns Night. But why bring it to Texas?

"In Scotland and Texas the people are very similar--friendly and well-mannered," or so Cronin claims. There are a few characters slumped in office chairs right now that don't fit that description, but he may be right otherwise. Several hundred thousand Scots and Scots-Irish settled in Texas since pioneer days. And Glenlivet happily sponsors Burns Night suppers here because almost half of all single malts sold in the state come from their line up.

As for tasting notes, well, it's impossible to read the Burning Question crew's drunken scrawls. Let's just say things started to go downhill when Cronin said "drinking whisky on the rocks is like getting Halle Berry into bed and asking her to keep her clothes on"...and that there will be disciplinary action on Monday morning.]

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