SERVING whisky with haggis is a culinary catastrophe, according to one of Scotland’s top authorities on the national dish.
“Haggis Queen” Jo Macsween claims in a new book that whisky is too strongly-flavoured to go well with the Burns Night dish.
Turning her back on the centuries-old tradition, Macsween says Haggis is better paired with a decent glass of wine – or even a beer.
The owner and director of the haggis making firm that bears her name has just published a book about the world-famous Scottish delicacy.
As well as debunking myths about the meal, she suggests new Burns Night recipes including haggis nachos and haggis pakora.
The Midlothian-based business leader writes in the book: “The combination of whisky and haggis is a bit like an old married couple; everyone assumes it is a match made in heaven and that they never argue or fall out.
“I almost feel unpatriotic in suggesting that maybe they should split up and that the haggis should have a fling or two with a pint of beer.”
She added: “I do like whisky but I have to say I have never quite found such a highly alcoholic drink to be a great soulmate for any food, never mind haggis.
“So I tend to keep them well apart, preferring instead to retire from the dining table to a comfy seat for a long fireside chat with whisky glass in hand.
“And as for the dubious habit of pouring neat whisky over haggis, I can only assume that has been a necessity for some when faced with extremely inferior haggis!”
Macsween suggests wine or darker beers would go best with haggis.
She wrote: “Although red wines are usually the best choice, blockbuster wines from hot climates (such as Australian Shirazes) are not what I have in mind.
“You most certainly need a wine of character to partner haggis, but too much body and alcohol tends to push its delicate flavours into the background, which is not the desired result at all.
“I have often found that South African and Italian wines seem to have the right acidity and levels of tannin to work harmoniously with haggis.
“In fact, acidity is a very important word: the juicy sharpness of red wine can often bring out the best in the haggis.”
She dubs Barbera “the haggis red”, adding: “The biggest white wine success for me is Gewürztraminer from Alsace.”
The book also recommends several beers: “In my experience, it is higher alcohol beers that work best to match the spicy character of haggis rather than a light lager or blond type beer.
“There are plenty of UK beers to choose from and amongst my favourites are ‘Dark Island’ and ‘Skull Splitter’ from Orkney, and more local to me, ‘Border Gold’.
“Continental beers such as ‘Duvel’ and ‘Chimay’, as well as some fruit beers, are also a great match.”
She added: “I think one could safely speculate that Robert Burns could have enjoyed an ale of some sort with haggis when he ate it, if nothing else because the water was not fit to drink in Edinburgh in the mid-eighteenth century.”
The book, The Macsween Haggis Bible, pulls together a lifetime of ideas on haggis from Jo and others in the company, which was founded by her father John Macsween and is based in Loanhead.
Speaking today, Macsween said the theatricality of Burns Night put some people off of indulging in the dish.
She has included recipes such as haggis nachos to try to demystify the dish.
She said: “The classic image of a Burns Night often features men of a certain age with kilts and haggis.
“People might think they have to douse it with whisky or stab it with a knife.
“It’s wonderful theatre but but it might put people off.”
Many potential haggis-eaters are also put off by misconceptions about what is in haggis.
Jo said people often thought haggis’ “natural casing”, animal intestine, was on the dish itself.
But she said: “The natural casing is the same as salami, but people think they’re eating animal intestines.”