Have you heard of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns? His poem (and song) Auld Lang Syne is one of the most sung songs around the world. Usually played on New Year’s Eve, Auld Lang Syne translates to – “old long since” and tells a story of happy days gone by with old friends and sharing memories over a cup of kindness. If you’ve never listened to it before, it’s a classic and well worth your time.
So, what does a long passed poet have to do with scotch and why is it celebrated every January? Not only was Robert Burns a poet but he was the most famous exciseman in Scotland. Excisemen, also known as gaugers, were the enemy of illicit distillers. They were the taxmen, charged with ensuring the governments’ taxes on the scotch whisky industry were being paid.
In the 1700’s taxes on whisky were exorbitantly high and it’s presumed more than 1900 illicit stills were in operation. Excisemen were scoundrels, often taking more than what was required by law. Several also accepted bribes. Spirit safes were installed as a measure to keep employees from stealing a single drop before it could be taxed. The excisemen were the ones who held the key and oftentimes helped themselves.
Now that you know why excisemen were generally despised, why are we celebrating Robert Burns? Simply put, he was regarded as fair and thus very popular with the distillers. He collected what was needed and not more. Oh yes, and that disturbing photo? That was taken from Robert's Burns' "Deil's Awa Wi the Exciseman". A song depicting excisemen as bad men who, when taken by the devil, would be cause for dance and celebration from the people. Robert Burns was born January 25, 1759 and died in 1796 at the age of 37.
In honour of Robbie Burns Day, Aligra Wine and Spirits has brought in the Arran Robert Burns Single Malt. It’s fruity, light and also my staff pick for this month. I’m also hopeful to be hosting an online scotch whisky tasting later this month. I hope you’ll stay tuned for some details to come in the next few weeks.
I invite you to stop by the store any time you’d like a recommendation or just want to talk some whisky. You can also send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
“Freedom and whisky gang thegither!” – Robert Burns