Continuing today’s Dabbler Soup double-bill, we’re delighted to present Ian Buxton, our new drinks correspondent. Ian is one of the UK’s leading drinks writers, specialising in whisky and spirits, and is the author of the bestselling book 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. He will be bringing us exclusive articles on a subject that we know is very close to your Dabbler hearts…

I’ve been puzzling over this for some time. The distilling industry has been keen to promote the idea of matching different whiskies with different foods. This is, after all, a common enough idea in the Far East and in Japan whisky, with lots of ice and water, is frequently drunk throughout a formal meal.

And, I have to admit, some of the matches work really well. I’ve sampled some of Scotland’s peatier and saltier drams, such as Talisker or Ardbeg, with salty foods such as oysters or smoked salmon and enjoyed the combination.

A fuller flavoured sherry-influenced Speyside single malt – such as Glenfarclas or The Macallan – might complement a beef or venison dish, or will sometimes be served with haggis at a traditional Burns Supper. The caramelisation that occurs when a steak is properly grilled pairs well with the flavours and textures of these bigger whiskies.

But I’m always left slightly under-whelmed because, at heart, however well the pairing has worked I have a nagging feeling that there is a wine (or even a beer) that would have worked just that little bit better. And you don’t always want the alcohol delivery of whisky throughout a meal.

But I think I may just have found the ideal pairing. The kind people at Whyte & Mackay sent me some of their Dalmore Gran Reserva and a bar of chocolate. Not any chocolate you understand; this was a special Ginger blend in a very dark Mansari made from the best Madagascar beans. A slightly bitter bouquet with hints of soft fruit escapes from the richness of the precious and fragile Criollos and Trinitarios cocoa and this harmonises very well with ginger. (This blend was made especially for the tasting but Valrhona’s Manjari dark chocolate bar would probably work just as well.)

Sampled along with the whisky, the flavours of both were enhanced. Gran Reserva (quite modestly priced at under £50 for a bottle) is a sherry-dominated single malt that offers dried fruits and Christmas cake aromas; roasted coffee, chocolate and ripe oranges and rich citrus lemon peel. Its magnificent flavours were enormously enhanced by nibbling a little chocolate alongside the whisky.

It was an epiphany! Make a note of this for your Christmas dinner planning. By all means serve claret with the turkey and fine sauternes with the pudding – but keep some dark chocolate to serve with black coffee and a generous glass of Dalmore single malt.

Trust me; this really does work.


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  1. Brit on Friday 5, 2010

    I reckon you can get a bottle of the Gran Reserva for forty quid here. A touch above my normal price range I have to admit, but I suppose that by the time you’ve got through that you’ve had more than your money’s worth of entertainment.

    And you don’t always want the alcohol delivery of whisky throughout a meal. Beautifully put, that ‘alcohol delivery’…

  2. Ian Buxton on Friday 5, 2010

    Never mind 40 quid.
    Dalmore Trinitas is £100,000 the bottle. Seriously. (Well, they’re serious about it anyway and they expect us to take it seriously, so behave). And they claim to have sold 2 of the 3 bottles available.

    What does it taste like? Well, for obvious reasons, I have no idea.

    But, if any Dabbler would care to step up for the remaining bottle I’ll be happy to help enlighten them!

  3. Brit on Friday 5, 2010

    £100,000?

    Well i reckon the best-tasting drink I’ve bought a bottle of in recent memory is Ardbeg’s 10 Year Old. That’s is £38 a bottle, so the Trinitas must be, if my maths is correct (and it often isn’t), a staggering 2,631 times more delicious than Ardbeg. Wowee.

  4. Recusant on Friday 5, 2010

    Every year, for Christmas and his birthday, I would buy my father a bottle of increasingly fancy (and expensive) malt whisky. He was appreciative, but I noticed he didn’t exactly guzzle it. Finally I plucked up the courage – he was the sort of man you had to pluck up courage for – to ask him which Scotch he preferred. Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, he said. Not some esoteric and rare malt, but a, to my mind, tarted up and overpriced blend in a fancy bottle.

    After his death, I finally decided to give the Chivas a try myself. Epiphany! After years of expensive and over-hyped malts, I had at last found the perfect Scotch. So dump all the rest and stick to the Chivas: it goes with every occasion and every mood.

  5. Ian Buxton on Friday 5, 2010

    That’s two ‘epiphanies’ already. Heady stuff this whisky.

  6. jonathan law on Friday 5, 2010

    In my student days I’d go for a good seaweedy Laphraoig with a Cadbury’s Creme Egg.

    Trust me; this really doesn’t work.

  7. Worm on Friday 5, 2010

    Great review, which made me want to start drinking whisky at my desk at work! I’m with everyone else who’s never spent more than £40 on a bottle! And recusant, I’m with you on the chivas-as a lover of the soft lowland malts (cragganmore is my fave) I find chivas very drinkable despite it’s naff reputation. Never had any truck with the peaty lanolin stuff like laphroig…

  8. Brit on Friday 5, 2010

    Malty must be up a mountain again, else he’d be all over this one…

  9. Gadjo Dilo on Friday 5, 2010

    Tesco’s used to do a disturbingly low-priced single malt called Rannoch Moor, if I remember corectly – maybe they still do. Used to go lovely down with a Curly-Wurly! No, not really. The Singleton was also an enjoyable and well-priced single, one with which I finally celebrated the end of my educational studies.

  10. ricardo on Friday 5, 2010

    Ian, I will buy your book. Here in Brazil it is rare the blended 12 year Passport ( the 8 year is very popular and not good) and that 12 was my first one and yet it seems to me my best … maybe whisky is like a proustian drink, don’t you think ?

  11. Peter on Friday 5, 2010

    Ian, does this exquisite symbiosis work straight up, or is it best preceded by lots of claret and sautuernes?