A Birthday Toast to Scotland’s Bard

Rabbie Burns Cocktail
my attempt at making a Rabbie Burns aka Robert Burns cocktail…


The peculiar habit among Americans to call Burns “Bobby” (or “Bobbie”) has long been an object of derision. Ogden Nash proclaimed in the New Yorker: “That hero my allegiance earns/Who boldly speaks of Robert Burns.” His 1951 poem “Everything’s Haggis in Hoboken” lampoons “coy and cute” faux-Scots who “turn all doch-an-dorris” at the mention of Burns. “I have an inexpensive hobby,” Nash wrote, “Simply not to call him Bobby.” Noting that he would no more speak of Tommy Hardy or Bernie Shaw, Nash penned this indelible couplet: “And I yearn to shatter a set of crockery/On this condescending Bobbie-sockery.” Nash liked a drink, but he wouldn’t have dreamed of ordering a Bobby Burns.

In the U.K., the problematic diminutive isn’t Bobbie, but “Rabbie.” Many Burnsians take it as a mark of the neophyte or poseur when they hear someone praise dear old “Rabbie.” Others get downright offended. Cranky Glaswegian politician John S. Clarke wrote in 1925: “To refer to Burns as ‘Rabbie’ at this stage in world history is a piece of disgusting insolence.” I quail to think what Clarke would have said of the Bobby Burns cocktail.

The drink makes one of its first appearances in the 1930 “Savoy Cocktail Book,” published in London. The cocktail is called the Bobby Burns, and is made with Scotch, sweet vermouth and a bit of Benedictine. But that may not be the original Burns Cocktail. “Old Waldorf Bar Days” was published in 1931, but its recipes were those served at the Waldorf Hotel before Prohibition. The book includes not a Bobby Burns but a more formally titled Robert Burns. (The author, Albert Stevens Crockett, isn’t sure whether the drink was christened for the famous poet or for a local cigar salesman of the same name.) Instead of adding Benedictine to the Scotch and vermouth, the Waldorf’s Robert Burns cocktail calls for a dash of absinthe.

Further complicating matters, the Burns hasn’t always stuck to Benedictine or absinthe. Kingsley Amis, in his book “Every Day Drinking,” stated that “Bobbie Burns” cocktails were to be made of Scotch, vermouth and Drambuie. He had good reason for this recommendation: David Embury, author of the indispensable 1948 “Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” defines a Bobbie Burns cocktail as a “Rob Roy with the addition of 1 dash of Drambuie.” Embury notes that “Benedictine is sometimes used in place of Drambuie,” but he says that “Drambuie is preferable because it is made with a Scotch whisky base.”

Embury also suggests adding a dash of Peychaud’s bitters to the mix. I’m not so sure about the Peychaud’s, but I do prefer the drink made with Drambuie. You may disagree — it’s worth trying the Burns cocktail all three ways to find out how you like it best.

(click here to continue reading A Birthday Toast to Scotland’s Bard – WSJ.com.)

For the record, I tried all three (using only 1 oz of Scotch, and other ingredients proportionately adjusted), and liked the Benedictine version best, the Drambuie variant second best, and the Absinthe version was a bit overpowered by the Absinthe. Final verdict was: worth trying if you want to drink a Scotch cocktail. I’ve had this bottle of Dewar’s White Label for a long, long time, might as well drink it up, and celebrate the poet.

Burns, in common with many other great figures in history, did indeed have a colorful and eventful life during his 37 short years upon this earth, his early demise due in no small part to the doctors of the time who believed that standing immersed in the freezing waters of the Soiway Firth would benefit his failing health.

But his lifestyle is not the reason for his everlasting fame. That is due simply to the wonderful legacy of poems and songs that he left to the world, and which most certainly deserve to be read more than once a year.

Robert Burns was a man of vision. He believed absolutely in the equality of man, irrespective of privilege of rank or title. He detested cruelty and loved the gifts of nature.

It is undeniable that Burns liked the company of women, but what is not generally recognised is that he was a strong advocate of women’s rights, at a time when few men were.

He despised false piety and consequently was unpopular with the church as he mocked their preachers mercilessly.

I have, however, heard an eloquent Church of Scotland minister describe some lines from the Bard’s works as being no less than modern proverbs, and it is difficult to disagree with that statement when one considers the depth of meaning in some of the words that Burns wrote.

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley!’

‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!’

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!’

‘An honest man’s the noblest work of God!”

The works of Robert Burns are indeed full of wisdom!

Burns’ poems and songs are wonderful to read, but as many are composed in what is virtually a foreign language to the bulk of English speakers, they can be heavy going to the non-Scot, or non-Scots speaker.

This book contains a varied selection of Burns’ works, some well known, others less so.

(click here to continue reading Understanding Robert Burns.)

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