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.