January 25th is known to be a date of celebration in the Scottish world, as it is the birthday of non-other but the beloved national Scottish poet and hero Robert (Rabbie) Burns. All around the world feasts (AKA Burns Suppers) are held on that day (and also during the first weekend of January) to commemorate Burns and his passions – Writing poems, Haggis, Whisky, and maybe the greatest of all – Women. He used his first passion to write quite a bit about the others, and thanks to him whisky and haggis became well known outside of Scotland (women were supposedly very well known prior to his work being published).
Most known picture of Robert Burns (taken from Wikipedia)
Remark: Even if you don’t know of Burns, you know at least one of his works – the famous Auld Lang Syne that is sang throughout the world on Hogmanay celebrations. You can see this song and the rest of his works at Robert Burns Country – I recommend it.
I’ve never been to a Burns supper myself, though read and viewed quite a bit about it, the famous Haggis ceremony that happens during it (can be found on YouTube) and the amounts of whisky poured during it. Jonathan (Yonni) Ishai of the Israeli Whisky Society (once again, not to confuse with our Whisky Israel Society), has been organizing Burns Supper events for the past few years, and has not failed to so this year as well, together with Johnnie Walker Israel brand (imported by Israeli Diageo distributer I.B.B.L Spirit LTD). Yonni actually gave a heads up about this at the Japanese whiskies night earlier this month, and I made sure to ask him too book me a place.
It so happens that my father Gideon (you may recall him from other posts), shares the same birthday date as Rabbie Burns and I decided that as part of his birthday present I will take him with me to the above mentioned IWS’ Burns Supper. The other part of his present was a personal labelled Famous Grouse bottle (“The Famous Gideon”), which I gave him after the supper in the parking lot as it is imported by FIW, a competitor to I.B.B.L.S, and I didn’t want to mix one happy occasion with another (there’s a Hebrew phrase saying you mustn’t ).
On the day of the occasion I left work a bit earlier in order to prepare and dress up. You’re probably thinking now “what the…!?”, BUT, even though there is no dress code in Israel to almost anything (unless you’re in the security forces or working for UPS), a Burns Supper has a world dress code which is – if you have it, come wearing your kilt! Well I have one, got it during my first trip to Scotland (2007). After getting some advice in the xmarksthescot.com Modern Kilt Wear forum, about which shoes and shirt to wear, I got ready and was on my way to the Burns Supper at Andromeda House, Jaffa.
Note: As with the Japanese whiskies night, once again Yonni didn’t “allow” me to bring my heavier photography gear, and to be quite honest, this time I didn’t really want to as I wanted to enjoy. I did bring my smaller camera and when the evening started I happened to get acquainted Itzick Biran, the photographer hired by I.B.B.L.S for the night and also with Hila Biton, Whisky Brands Manager at I.B.B.L.S, who volunteered to, and did send me on the day after all of the pictures taken by Itzick, so I can use any I need in the post – so many thanks to both Hila and Itzick. (I.B.B.L.S pictures are indicated as such).
I was told in advance by Yonni that the evening will be held in three parts, each a different floor of the house. And so, I entered the first floor into the entrance hall, where on the bar, Johnnie Walker Red Label cocktails were being poured (with Ginger Ale and what I was told to be mashed strawberries), on the back wall the big wines cabinet was decorated with many JWRL bottles and going around the room were two ‘Jane’ Walkers (two pretty young ladies dressed as JW), with trays of strawberries one hade to dip in chilli peppers paste and have a shot of JWRL immediately after.
The atmosphere was starting to warm up, and as I met some old friends and made some new friends (seems that being the only kilted bloke draws attention), the promised piper came in and started his bit. To be honest, I’ve heard some pipers in my days (been listening to this music, and Scottish folk in general, since I was eight years old), and I’m sorry to say that even though this youngster tried his best he wasn’t very pleasant to listen to. I will give him credit though, that he knows how to play the bagpipes, something I think I will never be able to, and it seems that he is working his way to improve and I’ll love to listen to him again in a year’s time.
Another note: Some of the friends I met included Raviv from our Whisky Israel Society, some guys from work and another whisky friend named Ben who came with his father Moty. Moty happens also to be a photography enthusiast, and took some very nice photos, some of which you can find below.
After some mingling time, we were invited to go onto the second floor where tables where set in front of a large screen. Each place had three copita-like glasses with whisky in them, and on the tables some salads, water and bread were placed for us to have. As we sat down waiters and I.B.B.L.S stuff went around the tables offering tumblers with Johnnie Walker Gold Label. What happened to the intermediate brand of Black Label you ask? I’ll get to that soon.
Yonni started the informative part of the night with a very amusing presentation about the different language dialects spoken in Scotland (Gaelic, Scottish English and English) as a background for a presentation about Rabbie Burns (who wrote mainly in Scottish English). Yonni spoke of Burns’ life, how events in his lifetime, in Scotland and England, affected him and his writings and then spoke of how very much fond Buns was of whisky and haggis (and I apologize if I forgot something and/or mixed up the order in which things happened).
After explanations about Scotland’s whisky regions, it was the time for the three nosing glasses to ‘shine’. Dudi Zats, Alcohol Range Manager at I.B.B.L.S, introduced us to the content of the glasses – Singleton of Dufftown 12YO, Cardhu 12YO and, if you remember the missing intermediate label from before, it seemed that it was in the third nosing glass as it contained Johnnie Walker Black Label. It was not clear to me why the JWBlckL was given in a nosing glass whereas all the other labels were not; I was told it had something to do with the need to compare it to the Cardhu, but I’m still not certain.
I will have no notes in this post, as it was quite difficult to nose and taste the whiskies due to time pressure, previous drams effect and, well for me, the noise in the room. I can only say that I liked the Singleton better though both, it and the Cardhu, were quite nice – fruity and sweet – especially for a smoke head like me.
After Dudi’s presentation, Yonni presented two short videos about the Haggis. One showed the traditional Haggis Ceremony as should be done at a Burns Supper (including reading out loud Burns’ Address To A Haggis, with all the relevant gestures and required actions). The second video was not for the vegetarians of the faint hearted as it showed how Haggis is made. Following these videos came in, accompanied by bagpipes music, hot plates of ‘personal haggises’, which were actually very nicely made minced beef sausages that were covered with JWblckL just they were served.
The serving of the haggis was the queue for the rest of the foods to arrive (chicken rolls, beef stew, rice, salads and so on) and for the whisky taps to turn on. Tumblers of Johnnie Walker Green Label were given to all and refills of it and of JWGldL, Singleton, Cardhu and JWblckL were offered all around. Just like as it supposed to be at a Burns Supper, the ‘streams of whisky were flowing’.
Once we all finished eating, Yonni and Dudi showed us a well made short video presentation summarizing the past ten years of the whisky industry around the world and also the Johnnie Walker, The Man Who Walked Around the World video. We were then invited to go up to the third floor for the evening’s finale.
At the third floor, a big observation porch with amazing view of Tel Aviv at night, a coffee bar was waiting for us along with truffles and other kinds of sweeties for desert. At the back of the room Johnnie Walker cigars were being lit and provided (tried to learn their origin with no success), and Johnnie Walker Blue Label was given in a custom dedicated JWBlueL tumblers. Everyone was chatting around, taking pictures and enjoying themselves as the evening slowly came to an end. As people were leaving, they were each given a JW bag with a JW copita-like nosing glass in it as a souvenir from the evening, along side a personal water bottle, just to help them with sobering up.
The main stars of the evening
Both pictures courtesy of I.B.B.L.S
As I consumed about sixteen drams in about three and half hours (the whole event was time pressured for some reason and lasted for about four hours in total), I stayed long after in order to sober up along with some others. I finally got home at around 2:30AM after I took with me a guy I met there who apparently lives next to me and was fully loaded. My father for comparison, was home by 23:00PM. I had a great evening, so did my father, and so did my friends, and I do hope to take part in next’ year’s event as well.
I want to thank Yonni Ishay for organizing this evening (and also wish him a belated happy birthday, as his day was the 24th). I also thank I.B.B.L.S guys for the pictures, the drinks and a very well organized evening. I thank Moty for sharing his photos and allowing me to use them and last but not least, a thank you goes as always to Gal for having my posts.
Ending the evening with style
Left: Yonni Ishay, Myself and my father Gideon.
Right: Ben and Moty Haimovici
I’ll leave you with the words of Rabbie Burns taken from his poem Scotch Whisky:
Thou clears the head o’doited Lear;
Thou cheers ahe heart o’ drooping Care;
Thou strings the nerves o’ Labour sair,
At’s weary toil;
Though even brightens dark Despair
Wi’ gloomy smile.
Thanks for reading.