If ever there was on occasion on which to crack open a bottle of scotch then Burns Night, on 25 January, is it.
While Scotland is still in the grip of lockdown, the more raucous knees-ups will be cancelled, but a toast or two to Robert Burns will still be very much in order.
For those looking to expand their whisky collection with a new bottle of scotch, we’ve put together this list of single malts inspired by the Burns Night celebrations.
Some have been chosen for their links with the great poet, some because they perfectly accompany the traditional fare served at a Burns Night supper, and others are here simply because we think they’re great whiskies for a toast.
So whether you’re taking part in an online Burns Night event, treating yourself to a solo sip in his honour, or are deferring celebrations until it’s time to do them full justice, the whiskies here will make the occasion just that little bit more special.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Robert Burns single malt, 43%
The Arran distillery is a patron of the Robert Burns Society, which has permitted it to use his name for a single malt whisky. The whisky is a top-notch tipple, fully deserving of a place at the Burns supper table, with light and fruity flavours, honeyed sweetness and a dry spicy finish. And with a portrait of the poet on the label, you also have an image to raise your toast towards.
Buy now £29.94, Master of Malt
Talisker 10 year old, 45.8%
This classic whisky from the Isle of Skye is noted for its strong peppery character, which we think makes it the ideal whisky to drink alongside a dish of haggis, neeps and tatties. And besides being a peppery powerhouse, you’ll also get a good fill of smoke, plenty of grain, and even a coastal pinch of salt to help your culinary experience along.
Buy now £40.00, Tesco
Tamdhu batch strength 5, 59.8%
Cranachan is the traditional Scottish dessert often served at Burns suppers and it takes a rich whisky to cope with the cream, raspberries and oats that make up the dish. Speyside sherry-cask masters Tamdhu can summon the required characteristics, and this release is so thick and luxurious it could almost be a cranachan sauce. Creamy, nutty, spicy and with a berry fruitiness to lift the tannic oakiness, its flavours will survive long after you’ve licked your dessert bowl clean.
Buy now £79.95, Master of Malt
AnCnoc 12 year old, 40%
We’ve picked this bottle because it’s a great value all-rounder. It has a citrus sweetness that is a good match for food and there’s enough of a malty background to make sure it stands its ground throughout an evening of revelry. Some oaky notes develop with increasing complexity as you sip, making it an equally good choice for those whisky drinkers who like to ponder their drams in more studious fashion.
Buy now £30.45, Master of Malt
Bowmore 15 year old, 43%
Bowmore distillery was founded in 1779, making it contemporaneous with Robert Burns, who was born 20 years earlier. This 15 year old is a typically smoky Islay whisky that has spent three years in oloroso sherry casks, giving it an extra rich layer of sweet fruit before some leathery, woody spices emerge. It also has a deliciously creamy texture that will make you want to swirl the whisky around in your mouth for a while, soaking up those peaty flavours before swallowing in time for the next delicious sip.
Buy now £52.90, The Whisky World
The Glenlivet 12 year old illicit still
This whisky takes its inspiration from The Glenlivet’s founder, George Smith, whose first whiskies were illegally distilled – a common practice in Burns’s day. It’s a smooth whisky with a peachy, stewed fruit sweetness, a few floral notes and a toffee richness. Burns may well have enjoyed this whisky but, with him being an exciseman, we’ll add the reassurance that these days it’s produced perfectly within the law.
Buy now £49.99, Amazon
Glengoyne the legacy series chapter two, 48%
If you’re looking for a new whisky to please everyone, then this 2020 release from highland distillery Glengoyne will serve you right. Its fruit-salad aromas make it instantly approachable and the sweet, syrupy flavours will get you licking your lips with glee. Pineapple and melon are among the fruity finds, while some hints of toast and oak help bring its subtle spices to life.
Buy now £55.95, The Whisky Exchange
Balblair 12 year old, 46%
One of Burns’s favourite distilleries was Ferintosh on the Black Isle, one of the major names in whisky back in the day. It closed in 1926, so we’ve shuffled a few miles north to the Balblair distillery and their 12-year-old highland whisky. It’s a light drink with a zesty lemon freshness and a creamy, honey sweetness, while a sprinkling of spice and a hint of leathery oak at the finish adds a touch of complexity to its easygoing character.
Buy now £37.50, The Really Good Whisky Company
Glen Scotia 15 year old, 46%
“Will ye go to the Indies my Mary, and leave auld Scotia’s shore?” These words are from a song penned for Burns’ early love, Mary Campbell, and a possible future life together in Jamaica before her untimely death. Although known as Highland Mary, she also spent some time in Campbeltown, once the whisky capital of the world. Glen Scotia 15 is a mighty fine Campbeltown dram – richly fruity with some gingery warmth and even a hint of sea air freshness. Let it be a toast to your true love.
Buy now £45.95, The Whisky Exchange
Mortlach 21 year old, special releases 2020, 56.9%
If you’re a keen whisky drinker with deeper pockets, then Burns Night could be seen the perfect excuse to channel funds into a new boozy investment. For this purpose we would suggest the limited-edition release from Mortlach, finished in sherry casks and bursting with flavour. Even a small sip of this whisky makes for a big mouthful, with oranges and dried fruit soaking up lots of warming spice, and a sherry sweetness mellowing out some nutty, savoury notes.
Buy now £570.00, The Whisky Exchange
The verdict: Burns Night whisky
Any whisky named after Robert Burns has to be a good bet for Burns Night, and Arran’s effort won’t let you down.
Gin more your thing? Check out our favourite flavoured varieties