|Vince Capano is a two time winner of the prestigious Quill and Tankard
writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
Check back often for the next installment of
Vince's Adventures in Beerland
The Day of the Haggis by Vince Capano
O Whisky! soul o' plays an' pranks! Accept a Bardie's gratefu'
So said Robert Burns, famed poet of Scotland and understandably revered
bard of countless pubs around the world. While there's many a bar that
celebrates Robert Burns' birthday with a toast in his honor there are few
that honor his memory as elaborately as the Gaslight in South Orange, NJ.
Special is the keyword there. Special beer, special scotches, and a special
food menu featuring the most famous item of Scottish cuisine, Haggis.
Haggis, simply put, is a horrendous culinary concoction that consists of -
Weak Stomach Alert //please skip to the next paragraph if you like normal
food, rarely eat meat, or believe you are what you eat// -
....mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed
with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of
the slaughtered animal.
End of Alert - It is now safe to return to reading for we vegetarians and
normal carnivores alike.
In addition to all the evening's "specials", the Gaslight ups the hoopla ante
with a ceremony that proprietor Dan Soboti claims goes back to the early
days of Scotland. In fact he swears to have personally seen Sean Connery
participate in this identical ritual years ago. Now before you tell me that
Connery is Welsh, not Scottish, please remember that one never argues
with a bar's owner unless you've decided to give up drinking there forever.
The Gaslight's ceremony does not revolve around a Scottish birthday cake
or even a bar wide-sing along of Happy Birthday Dear Robbie. No, the
ingredients for the Gaslight ceremony are bagpipes, kilts, scotch, and one
large, ornate sword. That right, a sword. Pick any Highlander movie you
want and you've seen the blade that Mr. Soboti unveils for this annual
Now, I'm not of Scottish ancestry, despite having a picture of Star Trek's
beloved engineer Scotty on my wall. And I claim no familiarity with the
poetry of Mr. Burns. Two good reasons that explain why I was at Gaslight
that evening only for the beer, their superb Three Ring IPA to be specific.
I sat at the crowed bar next to Brian Lynch, a true (almost) son of Scotland
who proudly wore his clan's ancient crest on his checkered shirt and his
underwear (a claim that went unchallenged). He went on to tell me that he
had attended past Gaslight Robert Burns Day celebrations and even had a
small part in this evening's festivities. He assured me that I was about to
witness a ceremony that would bring Scottish brogue to my voice and tears
to my eyes. Brogue maybe, but tears no. After all, there's no crying in
your beer allowed at Gaslight.
The bar was jammed as was the large restaurant area in the back. There
were even dozens of people standing next to the decorative fish tanks in
which Mr. Soboti, in a less than subtle tribute to Robert Burns homeland,
had placed several small rubber Loc Ness Monsters.
Amidst all the noisy ferment of anticipation of the Burns ballyhoo I tried
mightily to concentrate on my delightful beer and the Yankee game being
broadcast on the large TV near the end of the bar. Just then I felt
someone touching my shoulder. It was a tall, bearded, well dressed
gentleman whom I had met at the Gaslight's famed Victorian Christmas
Dinner. He re-introduced himself as one Professor Dermit Quinn of Seton
Hall University and director of the pageant about to unfold. Eschewing any
small talk he got right to his point, asking me if I would participate in this
revered ceremony. Ah, Professor, you must have the wrong guy.
Serendipity brought me here tonight (she was the designated driver) and
I'm clueless when it comes to Robert Burns, Scotland, and even more,
I don't eat meat, stretching the definition of that four letter word to fit the
Professor Quinn insisted I was their man explaining that it was because of
me that the ceremony was even being held. Huh? It seems the good
professor and his cast of hundreds, give or take hundreds, had forgotten
about the Gaslight festivities. It was only when he saw it listed on
beernexus.com a day earlier that his memory was jarred. Since he knew I
worked for the benevolent, kind, brilliant, thoughtful, intelligent and
generous management team at the great beernexus (small bit of pandering
in hopes of a meager raise) my selection was his way of thanking the
website. I would have preferred he have showed his thanks by just buying
me a beer, but I agreed to participate anyway.
Professor Quinn ushered me to the back of the rear dining room. There I
saw his entourage of players. Two bagpipers with flowing kilts, badges,
and plumed hats, a long black robed individual caring a well worn book, a
man dressed in either some sort of medieval armor or discarded pots, and
an impeccably dressed woman in dark business suit that featured a the
Crest of the Royal House of Scotland. Oh, I had on a beernexus t-shirt and
a sweat stained Yankee cap.
The professor then gave me a set of concise and specific instructions. I
was to go into the kitchen, get the Haggis that had been personally made
by the Gaslight's Executive Chef Cindy Soboti, place it on the solid silver
platter he had given me, and quickly return. That I could do. If I held my
nose. We are talking Haggis you know. I ventured back to the kitchen
where Mrs. Soboti waited. As I held out the platter she began to chuckle,
then laugh, and finally let out with guffaws worthy of any TV comedy's
laugh track. "How could they pick the only vegetarian in the place to carry
this thing? she said. I was going to tell her the entire story but thought a
simple, "they're nuts" was even more to the point.
With Haggis firmly on plate I returned to the Professor who instructed me
to get in line behind the two pipers and in front of the sword. I couldn't
decide what was worse, having to carry the you know what or doing it in
front of a battle dressed sword carrying Scotsman who would not tolerate a
single misstep or any member of that infamous Vegetarian Clan.
The pipers began to play a tune I had definitely never heard on the
Gaslight jukebox as we began to march out. "Hold it high, people have
come from miles around for this" Dan Soboti shouted to me. An ominous
"Aye" was all I heard from the creaking swordsman behind me.
Our procession slowly moved through the restaurant and back to the long
bar as cheers and applause greeted our every step. I began to wonder if
Haggis carriers had groupies. We looped around the upper bar area and
made our way to the back to the rear restaurant where a small table had
been placed in the center of the room. The pipers stopped at either end of
the table as the Professor took the Haggis and placed down. He then
opened the book that was dutifully carried by the distaff member of the
march and began to read, with appropriate emotion, the words of Robbie
Burns himself. I suppose it was English since I understood every fourth or
fifth word, especially the ones that had to do with whiskey and drinking.
After the reading the metal clad sword carrier came forward with a clank.
He recited a sort of homage to haggis and without warning brought his
blade crashing down on the table. Definitely not Emily Post's
recommended way of cutting food.
With this, Brian Lynch my drinking cohort, approached the table with six
glasses and a bottle of Glenmorangie 18 scotch whiskey. Brian handed
each of us a glass and began to pour. Clearly this was going to be the part
of the ceremony I could appreciate the best. The professor held up his
glass to the the admiring crowd, nodded his head toward Scotland, spoke a
few incomprehensible words in the bard's Old English, and downed his
drink. The rest of us followed in kind. Three more times the glasses were
filled and the professor toasted the bard. This scotch was so good I was
even starting to understand the toast. With that the pipers took up their
instruments and led us off ending the ceremony to a tumultuous roar.
I thanked the Professor, shook hands with the group, and headed back to
the bar for some beer and dinner. All my efforts had worked up an
appetite. Sadly, I recalled tonight the Gaslight had only that special
Scottish menu of haggis, haggis, and more haggis. As I contemplated a
dinner of beer, proprietor Soboti came up to me and said not to worry. In
honor of my participation he had a special gift for me. You guessed it, a
can of vegetarian haggis.
Hey, I've had vegetarian Turkey, salami, sausage, and knackwurst, so why
|The Day of the Haggis