Pairing whisky and chocolate - with difficulty!
Tastings on Twitter are all the rage at the moment. The other day it was BeerBods. Last Thursday it was a tasting organised by The Whisky Wire of whiskies from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society with chocolates by William Curley.
It sounded right up my street although I’m still a bit of a whisky newbie so was worried my tasting vocabulary wouldn’t be quite up to that of the whisky geeks taking part.
I was right to be. The SMWS for a start gives its whiskies the most bizarre names. Like “Night Nurse Nipped by Piranhas”, “Sailing Home Under a Smiling Sun” and “Magic Carpet in a Sweetie Shop”. It doesn’t reveal what they are until you taste them.
When the comments started popping up I was even more out of my depth. I now realise what new wine drinkers must suffer when we use words like ‘fat’ or ‘grassy’ about wines but even then I reckon we’ve got nothing on whisky writers.
The first whisky, no 130.1, “Dynamic and Attractive” turned out to be a 61.9% single cask Japanese whisky from the Chichibu distillery which my fellow tasters were describing as “lovely lemon drizzle cake”, “Grandad’s sweet bag” and “two stroke oil and damp grass cuttings - or, from one wag, "I'm getting wax jacket, old trainers and beenie hats over unkempt hair. Oh wait, that's just the foyer of @thehoxtonhotel"
The tweets were coming fast and furious. It was like the whisky equivalent of speed-dating. There were 28 by the time I’d finished scrolling through what people had been saying - my fault, I guess for not loading Tweetdeck but I don’t want my life to be any more invaded by Twitter than it is.
I was so flustered I managed to taste the wrong chocolate with 130.1 - a salted caramel instead of a Piedmont hazelnut. No wonder it didn’t work. At this point I gave up and decided to taste the combinations in a quieter and more leisurely fashion.
The whiskies - of which there were two more Japanese - were extraordinary. There was a 18 y.o. grain whisky from the Cameronbridge distillery - a lovely sweet interplay with an orange and chicory chocolate and a 35 y.o grain whisky from Strathclyde (the one I should have tasted with the salted caramel) that one taster reckoned tasted like vanilla Danish pastries dipped in Airfix model glue. (How did he/she know?) The Sailing Home Under a Smiling Sun turned out to be a 30 y.o. single cask grain whisky from the Caledonian distillery at a relatively modest 49%, a lovely light fragrant dram that went beautifully with a passionfruit and mango chocolate.
But my favourite pairings were the two other Japanese whiskies: the Night Nurse Nipped by Piranhas, a 12 y.o. 63% monster from the Karuizawa distillery with a chilli hot kick that really fired up a muscovado caramel and the “Magic Carpet in a Sweetie Shop” (55.1%) a glorious spicy woody whisky from the Hanyu distillery which was perfect with a juniperberry and cassis chocolate. I'd never tasted Japanese whiskies properly before and hadn't appreciated how brilliant they were.
My reservation about the exercise though, fascinating as it was, is that it’s always difficult to pair a complex drink with a complex food. There’s just too much going on. When I’m matching wine I tend to feel there can only be one hero. Great wine? Keep the food simple. A lot going on on the plate? Don’t distract too much with the wine. I suspect that applies to whisky too.
I also found the alcohol in some of these cask whiskies a problem. Obviously you couldn’t taste them full strength - well I couldn't - but it was hard to get the dilution just right for the chocolate. I reckon I over-diluted a couple. Something in any case that can’t be rushed.
Anyway it’s left me wanting more. I’m planning to hone my whisky tasting vocabulary by joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (at least that’s my excuse) and to eat more of Mr Curley’s delicious chocolates - but probably not together. I’m not sure my vocabulary is up to it.
I participated in the tasting as a guest of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
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