Words - Matthew Curtis, Photos - Dianne Tanner
I love haggis and my girlfriend Dianne and I celebrate Burns night every year without fail but until very recently I had always struggled to find the perfect beer to pair with this dish. Luckily we don't restrict our haggis intake solely to one evening a year because it's far too delicious and this has given me plenty of opportunities to balance the strong tasting, salty meat with the right beverage. I know what you're probably thinking, why not skip the beer and get straight into the whisky and as much as I enjoy a dram I personally find that the high alcohol content strips too much of the delicious fatty goodness of the haggis away from the palate.
When I first began attempting to blindly pair haggis with beer I assumed that a rich dark beer would be ideal so I threw Fuller's London Porter and Kernel export stout at it. The rich ground coffee and bitter dark chocolate flavours of these beers clashed with the richness of the haggis, it was about as succesful as attempting to climb Ben Nevis in just jeans and a tee shirt, in January. My next step was to try a deliciously fruity and bitter IPA, something like Thornbridge Halcyon. I love the way a juicy, resinous IPA interacts with a nice piece of red meat but again it didn't work with the haggis which overwhelmed the tropical and citrus flavours in the beer just leaving behind the astringent bitterness.
Last July I was in Edinburgh for the European Beer Bloggers Conference and on the last night we had a traditional Scottish dinner hosted by the good folks from Williams Bros and Fyne Ales. That night the haggis was paired with the delightful Fraoch Heather Ale from Williams Bros, a beer that I probably wouldn't drink on its own because it's not really intense enough for my individual taste but with haggis it's a match made in heaven. The light floral notes of heather honey provided the perfect moment of cleansing refreshment after each and every mouthful, both food and beer were enhanced simply by being enjoyed together.
So typically, this year I left picking up some bottles of Fraoch until the very last minute and had to ask the kind folk of Twitter where in London I could acquire some. Turns out it was on special offer for just £1.39 at Aldi but I don't live particularly close to a branch and I don't drive so I ventured into my local Aladdin's cave of booze, Jack's Off Licence. Here I found a huge range of Williams Bros beers but not a drop of Fraoch, luckily they did have Róisin (pronounced 'Rosheen'), a beer brewed with tayberries and according to Beer Writer Melissa Cole works even better with haggis than Fraoch. A tayberry is a hybrid of a blackberry and a raspberry that grows in Scotland's Tay Valley and it borrows the flavours of both fruit, think juicy end of summer sweetness combined with a drying tartness.
Róisin pours a deep pink, almost like a Rosé wine but a little darker and less vivid, the head of tightly packed bubbles looks like a pink hued cloud, cute. The aroma is subtle but is dominated by the fruit with the malt and hops being barely detectable on the nose. On the palate the fruit is prominant, the malts are dialled down but there is bitterness from the hops present and a slightly leafy, vegetal quality. The finish is dry but the fruit leaves a sticky trail of sugar as it segues its way down your gullet.
It worked with the haggis, the fruit mingling with the salty offal but it didn't provide the instant eureka moment that the Fraoch gave me when making the same pairing. I did enjoy Róisin more than Fraoch as an individual beer though, it was balanced and full of flavours I enjoy, it would be ideal pulled straight from the fridge on a long summers evening. A wiser blogger would have written this for Burns night but there will always be another Burns night. Right now your local supermarket is well stocked with half price haggis so why not grab a couple along with a Fraoch and a Róisin and let me know how you get on. Remember, haggis is for life, not just for Burns night.