It’s Burns Night, which I know sounds like a shady event similar to The Purge, but in fact it is a national holiday for Scotland where the country celebrates the life and poetry of their national poet, Robert Burns. If you’re celebrating Burns Night properly, you eat haggis, you drink whisky and you sing Auld Lang Syne, which Burns wrote. No joke.
Pretty great holiday, right? Wait, it gets better.
Not only do you eat haggis, you recite a famous Burns poem, “Address to a Haggis,” in which Burns claims the haggis is the one true, superior sausage. This revelation makes me wish for two things: 1) There should be more poems about sausage. 2) America should have national holidays celebrating its poets. On Emily Dickinson day, we could all listen to emo. On EE Cummings Day, we’d throw out punctuation and capitalization for 24 hours.
So, yeah. Burns Night. I’m all about celebrating poetry. It’s gonna be tough to get ahold of haggis in the states, but you can certainly get ahold of some Scotch. There are plenty of options out there, and feel free to pick the bottle that you think is the most fun to pronounce. But if you’re looking to treat Burns Night as an opportunity for some “experiential education,” pick up two bottles tonight: Highland Park’s The Light and The Dark. Highland Park has an astonishing portfolio of whisky on the market, with some bottles aged as much as 50 years. They like to play up their Scottish heritage and Viking roots with their names and marketing, and The Light and The Dark are no exception. Both bottles feature serpent dragons on their bottles, and were created to celebrate the oppositions in play on the Scottish islands, namely the dark, cold winters and the bright, sunny summers. Consider these whiskies as a two-part series that act as a declaration of balance and opposition, The Dark built to celebrate fall and winter and The Light meant to celebrate spring and summer. You could buy them separately, but since they were bottled essentially in tandem, you really should drink them side by side, a glass of each in each hand.
Highland Park took the same base spirit and aged them in completely different casks. Both were set aside for 17 years, and bottled at 52.9% ABV, but The Dark was aged in first-use European sherry casks. The Light was aged in refill American oak. And that’s what makes drinking these two whiskies side by side so much fun; you get to see exactly how specific barrels impact the booze.
All scotch smells like my childhood priest, who was a lovely man who enjoyed poker, spaghetti dinners and cheap brown liquor. Actually, now that I think about it, all of the male adults in my life as a child liked scotch, so basically, scotch smells like my childhood. That explains a lot. The Light also smells like cherry lozenges (again, childhood) and pours a really, really pale straw. I’m surprised by the lack of depth in the color, but I forget all about it when I take a sip. It is indeed a light whisky, with notes of salinity up front, followed by vanilla and even a vague streak of lime. It’s green and bright, with a hint of pepper and heat on the back end. It’s not terribly sweet nor is it particularly smoky. I find it incredibly easy to drink, whether over an ice cube or neat, but it has a hard time standing up to its brother, The Dark.
The Dark, which was aged in sherry casks, is rich and moody, delivering strong waves of dark fruit, maybe even something like sweet fruit cake. There’s less salinity, which I miss, but I do get elements of cinnamon. There’s still not a lot of smoke, which I’m thankful for, but I do get a better sense of the wood with The Dark. It’s easy to say that this whisky was built for sitting by the fire under a wool blanket, considering the marketing and the whole “ode to winter” thing, but I cannot deny that having a glass of The Dark in my hand makes me want to put on a flannel and build a fire.
If I have to pick a favorite of the two, I’d pick The Dark. But like I said, these bottles were made in tandem, and god gave you two hands for a reason. Happy Burns Night. Cue the bagpipes.