“Trenching yer gushing entrails bright …”
- from Robert Burns’ famed “Address to a Haggis.”
Who gives a hoot-mon how great a poet Robert Burns was?
He could have written off-color limericks for all most Scots really care. What seems to matter more is that their long-buried and beloved bard, who died in 1796, knew the importance of “a cup o’ kindness” and the value of blowing off steam.
Many of the man’s ditties, it is said, were penned at parties and recited between boozy belts of whiskey.
Which explains why for two centuries, the Scottish have used Burns’ birthday as the official excuse to trot out the bloated, much-maligned (with good reason) haggis and toss one grand jamboree.
“Scotland in January is one very cold, bleak place,” explains Bruce Ridley. “The wind howls in from the Atlantic. You’re down to the ends of meat and the roots in your cellar.
“What better time to bring out a single malt whiskey and throw a party?”
In this neck of the woods, nobody but nobody pays finer homage to the long departed Scottish poet than Spokane’s Ridley. The state industrial appellate judge held his 16th annual Burns bash over the weekend and it was better than ever.
Forget whatever myth you’ve heard about Scots being penny-squeezing pikers. Ridley and his family re-define the image of generous, gracious hosts.
What began in 1980 as a simple dinner party for eight now threatens to outgrow the Ridley South Hill home.
If that should happen he’ll probably buy a bigger abode. Friend Donna Fairley says when Ridley moved his family to Spokane in 1994, his first priority for buying this particular house was that it had “a perfect flow pattern for Burns party mingling.”
This year’s incarnation saw about 90 of the judge’s closest friends, which could include a stranger he met last week in a grocery store. Ridley is that gregarious.
Some guests traveled from California, Arizona, Canada and the west side of the state to be there. The party is so good because it works on so many levels.
There is the vast banquet - lamb, turkey, ribs, salads, tatties (potatoes), nips (turnips), etc.
There are the eloquent and hilarious after-dinner contests to recite Burns poetry in your best (or worst) brogue.
There is the eclectic nature of the guest list. Ridley doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor or kilted and non-kilted.
And, of course, there is Ridley’s basement treasure trove featuring nearly 100 varieties of the world’s finest scotch whiskies. The judge is a nationally recognized authority on single malts and has conducted tours of Scotland’s much-heralded distilleries.
Ridley has also assured himself a special place in heaven by letting his guests sample his collection to their contentment.
Blessed be those patron saints of Scotland: Bowmore, Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Genlivet, Springbank, Laphroaig, Glendullan …
Appreciating the subtleties and nuances of various single malts is an art as sophisticated as appreciating fine wines.
Los Angeles resident Andy Simpson, who attended the party, is a leading scotch collector. He has bottles from 113 different distilleries and can tell them apart by the smell, color and taste.
“The number I’m shooting for is 131,” says Simpson, who is in the computer business. “But I’ll get them. I went after the difficult stuff early.”
Some rare bottles sell for thousands in auction. A single shot of Bowmore Centennial, for example, sold for 35 pounds in Scotland.
Ridley’s party is so well thought of that the Aberlour Scotch company sent a representative from New York. He set up a tasting booth and gave away take-home samples.
But no Robert Burns celebration would be worth anything without a ghastly visitation by the dreaded haggis.
The haggis is that laughable Scottish sausage composed of ground-up organ meats, oatmeal, lizard tails and lord knows what all. The whole sordid business is packed straightaway into the stomach of a sheep and baked.
What emerges from the oven is a glistening, football-size tumor that is paraded like Prince Charles with bagpipes a-bleating.
“Although some people pay reverence, others say to themselves, ‘My gawd, do I have to eat this?”’ observes Randolph Petgrave, a Gonzaga University law student.
True Scots have been trying for eons, with slight success, to persuade the world that they actually like mealy haggis.
“All the more for me,” says haggis addict Ruth Troup, a council member of the Scottish St. Andrews Society. The society will hold its public Burns commemoration Saturday at the Masonic Temple.
It’s true. The haggis is nowhere near as vile as its reputation.
And childbirth is just a minor inconvenience.
Besides penning the lovely “Auld Lang Syne,” Burns further distinguished himself as the only poet to have written an actual ode to a haggis.
The eight verses are faithfully recited at all Burns celebrations as the haggis is unveiled and then ceremoniously gutted with a dagger:
“Fair fa’ you honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ye tak you place, …”
Hmm. A poem to a sausage cooked in a sheep’s stomach.
If that doesn’t demonstrate the brain-numbing power of single-malt whiskey, nothing will.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 Photos (2 Color)