Another from our archives, this time a special pairing of food and whisky from Dec 2013.
For the last tasting of 2013, we celebrated with a special whisky-food pairing. Tasting notes were provided to the chef in advance and he was given full license to indulge his creative culinary talents to craft morsels to be complimented by the selected whiskies.
Our approach was to first sniff, swill and sample the whisky then to sip further with food. The idea was to savour both together and distil the flavours. Only after we ate and drank our fill of each course was the whisky revealed. The key was – could the whisky both stand ‘on its own’ and did it enhance the flavours of the food?
1st whisky – Cragganmore 12 year, 40%
- Nose – It was like sniffing an entire fruit basket, banana, citrus, caramel – unmistakably bourbon cask
- Taste – Leathery with distinct woodiness, slightly smoky
- Finish – Smooth, warm, mild
Paired with a beetroot crêpe roll filed with two cheeses, a peppery surprise and sprig of parsley.
- Pairing pronouncement? Complimented fabulously! The chef shared that the tasting notes he received made the whisky sound rather insipid. So he opted for softer flavours with just a bit of pepper kick.
- Whisky verdict? Young dude, with a bit of fuzz not yet manly stubble…
2nd whisky – Talisker 10 year 45.5%
- Nose – Peat, smoked bacon, heather, moss… one member was reminded of the glycerine of life boy soap
- Taste – Spice, little harsh
- Finish – Nothing to write home about
Paired with two options:
- Non-Veg – Peppered chicken with fresh pineapple chunks in a reduced pineapple juice and coriander salsa
- Veg – Bruschetta with tomato, parsley, emmenthal cheese
Pairing pronouncement? Not so much complimenting as finishing. We admitted to the chef, this was not an entirely successful pairing. Some preferred chicken, some preferred veg.
Whisky verdict? Huskier, gruff guy… a bit rough around the edges but not a bad sort.
3rd whisky – Lagavulin 16 year, 46%
- Notes – Oily, brine, smoke, early morning jasmine… bacon again but saltier, wet earth smell
- Taste – Wood, leather, strongly peated, not harsh unless breathe it in
- Finish – Long smoky
Paired with a deconstructed vegetarian lasagne with pasta rounds made fresh that day and filled with a mix of vegetables, cheese added on top. Mix in the pesto – perfection!! We also declared that complimenting with pepper was very much a “now we are talking” kind of combination with whisky.
- Pairing pronouncement? Yum! Cheesy, peppery, add the pesto and voilà! A perfect match with the smoky whisky.
- Whisky verdict? Universal surprise. Lagavulin’s 16 year is a familiar favourite however we found the character quite different when paired with food.
4th whisky – Springbank 18 year 46%
- Nose – Sweet, citrus, a light peat, reduced orange peel, for me – an instant flashback to my father’s chemistry lab and others also discovered a medicinal whiff or two
- Taste – Woody, bitter sourness, chewy, oil, rubber
- Finish – Long, hint of sea salt, citrusy orange
- Pairing pronouncement? Brilliant – the orange burst from both the Springbank and cake – delightful! And the chocolates? An utterly sinful and blissful combination!
- Whisky verdict? A bit of a loner, has seen life, strong character and opinionated. One member joked it is a bit like the distillery which is staunchly independent, take weeks to reply to communications, slightly cantankerous but worth persisting to check out!
A few learnings for us included:
- Just because you’ve had the whisky before, doesn’t mean the next time you’ll have the same experience – our tasting with food brought a fresh new set of insights.
- Food very much influences the palate and experience. As one member put it:
“What a rich robust red wine does for beef, peaty whisky does for peppery lasagna.”
- Courses also have an impact – as another member put it:
“One cannot assume if the third course is with Ardbeg or Lagavulin, it is going to be very peaty and therefore plan the food to compliment the smokiness. We need to understand that the palette is already coated with the first two courses, and therefore there is going to be less peat on the palette, and so the food needs to compliment this and not the Lagavulin we have from our memory.”
- We were reminded that cheese and chocolate are known to combine well with most whiskies. Our discovery was that cracked black pepper does too – at least with the whiskies we sampled.
- Our next challenge is to try a pairing with flavours that have no cheese or chocolate – perhaps a four course Indian meal?
Have you ever paired whisky with food? What is your favourite combination?
PS – Apologies for the poor photo quality – camera settings went wonky and replacement phone’s camera isn’t ideal with the flash going on over-drive in the otherwise perfect mood and lighting of our evening. Clearly I’m NOT a photographer!
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