Haggis tasting notes, and whisky pairings


The Olivebank Haggis, Island Nation o Stronsay, Orkney

It’s a common misconception that aal haggis is the same. Nothing could be further fae the truth. As always, we aim tae promote cultural diversity – wae a peedie bit o positive northern chauvinism thrown in for good measure. This month, Brisknortherly brings you tasting notes tae three classic haggises o the north.

Haggis #1 – George Donaldson and Sons, Kirkwall, Orkney

Generations o Orcadians hiv been browt up on Donaldsons’ haggis. This is an exceptionally light haggis, wae a very high oatmeal content – meaning the haggis can be fluffed wae a fork. The colour is light, and the morsels o meat dotted among the oatmeal mean the cooked product has a bonny speckled appearance, like the breist o a Mistlethrush. The flavour is mild – as haggises go – but rich nevertheless. Donaldson’s is an outstandingly good haggis, made tae an owld family recipe. If you are new tae haggis, this is the ideal introduction. Serve wae clapshot, and pair wae Scapa the Orcadian single malt – because a refined pudding deserves a polite whisky.

Haggis #2 – George Cockburn and Son, Dingwall, Highland

This Hieland haggis is especially moist and mealy, wae powerful aromas o gravy and caramelised onion. High oatmeal content again maks for a haggis that is faer lighter and moister than supermarket haggises, or indeed the styles o haggis typically prepared in southern Scotland. (Brisknortherly’s advice is never tae buy a supermarket haggis.) Cockburn’s semolina-textured haggis has been judged the world’s best, proving ye don’t even need tae drive sooth o Inverness tae sample the cream o the crop. Serve this noble baest wae clapshot, mince and gravy (yes, a peedie bit o mince and gravy is traditional wae haggis!) and pair wae Laphroaig for a bit o complementary paet reek.

Haggis #3 – Maurice Williamson, Isle o Stronsay, Orkney

And this ane is completely different again! A denser haggis, wae cheust the right balance o cloves (more cloves than Donaldson’s or Cockburn’s, BTW, so a sweeter flavour) and a generous dash o white pepper that’s verging on pungent, but doesna owerstep the mark. An exotic pork haggis, Williamson’s honest sonsie face when boiled and drained luks like a marble boulder. Cut it open, and the pork heart nuggets inside are sweet chocolate chips in a plum duff. This is yet anither very fine haggis, fae a plucky, independent producer in a properly peripheral place. Fair fa ye, Olivebank butchers! Serve wae mashed tatties and a dram o Owld Pulteney – salt tae go wae the pepper 🙂


Is the skerry up?


Is the skerry up? is the question that sometimes goes roond wur hoose at this time o year. Fur if the skerry’s up, it’s worth hivvan a try for spoots doon at the shore. I fling oilskins, a bucket, an a gairdeen fork intae the back o the ker and set off.

Only the biggest tides expose the spoot beds. An me favourite spot is cheust inside the point at Aikerness, close tae the Broch o Gurness. This is whar ye’ll see folk waakin backwards across the sand, lukkan fur the telltale elliptical aperture afore plungan the fork doon, turnan owre the sand, an grippan the spoot.

Then there’s a life an death struggle as ye draw him up fae deep aneath the beach. He’s duggid, sharp, an slippery, and won’t gie up his life easily. Eventually, ye’ll feel him relax, an ye can draa him oot. Tak care no tae draa him up too kweek, or ye’ll loss the fruit. His shell is like varnished teak. Clunk in the bucket.

It’s great tae stretch up an luk oot tae Eynhallow an Rousay fae the watter’s edge in the winter grimleens, the great tangles lyan limp aal roond in the massive ebb. The folk that bade at the Broch o Gurness likely did the sam afore a feed o spoots on a winter night.

Wae half a bucket fill an darkness closan in, it’s time fur home. On wae the fryan pan an oot wae the butter an black pepper. High heat an cheust show them the pan, really. The owld folk likely haed a can o MacEwen’s Export wae thur spoots. These days, we like a gless o crisp Chardonnay tae wash them doon. Hou tae describe them if ye hivna eaten them afore? Somewhar atween calamaris an scallops – but different fae both. There’s notheen like a spoot!

Japan Diary: part one



I’m in Japan tae lecture on Scottish Language and Literature tae students in universities in Shizuoka an Kyoto, an tae members o the Tokyo Caledonian an Scottish societies. Me book, The History of Orkney Literature , was translated intae Japanese last year.

The kindness an courtesy we’ve been shown by the Japanese folk is notheen short o incredible. Between exhiliratan inter-city trips on the Shinkanzen, we hiv been royally entertained: taen roond the most sacred shrines o these magnificent cities, an introduced tae ivry conceivable aspect o Japanese cuisine.

We’ve eaten jellyfish, tofu, an miso soup, sea urchin, scallops an pickles. Soft-shell shrimps, cooked whole in impossibly light tempura batter, an eaten wae the heids on. The Japanese basil leaf, when picked up wae chopsticks and placed in the mooth, bursts wi fragrance an flavour. Udon noodles that keep ye fill up for days. A fish like a peedie stickleback, deep fried, crisp, an crunchy, is eaten whole. Onion soused in ginger. Sesame rice. Vegetables, the like o which we’ve nivver experienced afore, and that I canna compare tae anything European. Baby flatfish, fried squid, whitebait salad. We sample saki, hot an cowld, in modest quantities. The Japanese lager is cool an crisp. An, of course, diverse sushimi – the king o Japanese foods – unkan, fresh, an luxurious.

Sittan doon tae a cup o green tea in Yuko’s tidy office in Shizuoka afore me lecture, I’m struck by the extensive range o Scottish books I’ve seen on the shelves in these universities. Japanese translations o A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, the complete works o James Hogg, the Scottish National Dictionary, Japanese books o Scottish folk tales, Irvine Welsh in Japanese, a Japanese Lanark. The academics here ken more aboot Scotland an Scottish culture than most o us at home. Yuko’s PhD is aboot the history o the Scottish National Dictionary, for instance, an we meet ither freends who specialise in Scottish Romanticism, George Mackay Broon, an Shetland folklore.

The students themsels are interested, too. I tell them aboot Burns, Scott, MacDiarmid, Edwin Muir, aboot Scots an Gaelic, aboot Scottish political systems. They mak a really good job o repeatan peedie broon moose, an spier some penetratan questions at the end o the lectures: Can you tell me more about the links between Orkney language and Norwegian? Why do people in Orkney vote Liberal Democrat when the rest of Scotland votes S.N.P.? Why did Scots language supplant Gaelic as the language of the Scottish state during the Middle Ages? We can learn fae these inquiring young Japanese, too: cultures across the world should be interested in wan anither.