Words: Ben Davidson, Keeper of the Quaich
There are many ways to enjoy your favourite whisky. Often that’s neat in a Glencairn glass as you savour the aromas and flavours that are present from the many years of oak barrel maturation. That’s the purest form of appreciation of whisky.
However, in more recent times there have been many inroads made into the enjoyment of whiskies with a sweet or savoury accompaniment. This has allowed for more discussion about our favourite foods and how they complement or contrast the flavours in a good whisky.
Briefly, the foods we enjoy the taste of set off a cascade of sensations in the brain, triggered by the physiological and chemical makeup of those foods. The five main basic tastes that our tongues detect from the food we eat are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami – the description is given to the taste sensation of savoury, meaty, unctuous, fatty flavours. When these tastes are detected by taste buds on the tongue the chemo-receptors in the olfactory bulb are activated with the presence of air, to identify the specific taste of the food which we describe as flavour. The perception of these thousands of different flavours is dependent on the nose being open to allow for the olfactory bulb behind the nose to be able to unlock them and match the chemical scent code with something that we recognise.
In chocolate, there are varying degrees of the raw cacao ingredient, which is quite bitter and astringent on its own. It's the addition of sugars and milk solids that helps to sweeten the cacao to make it palatable and turns it into chocolate. But for me, it’s the addition of flavour elements into the chocolate which makes it a more exciting flavour match when paired with whisky.
Here are some suggestions to try when you are next settling down to a neat whisky or to try at you next dinner party when it’s time for dessert.
Whiskies from around the river Spey tend to be gentle and soft with a delicate fruity character sometimes typified as orchard fruits like apple or pear, with notes of citrus, vanilla, coconut and ocolate with orange and almond or perhaps medium dark chocolate with coconut and lime.
The Glenlivet Nadurra ‘First Fill American Oak’ paired with Coconut and Lime dark chocolate
“Beautiful bright citrus and subtle vanilla and coconut notes of the whisky are softened and complemented by the bittersweet intensity of the chocolate with the delicate notes of lime and coconut fattiness playing along to subdue the oaky tannins into a long and deliciously flavourful finish”.
Chivas Regal 18yo paired with Orange and Almond dark chocolate
"The deep, rich and subtle smoky touches of the whisky are superbly complemented by the slightly bittersweet notes of the orange and chocolate with the soft almond nuttiness helping to amplify the subtle sherry notes in this superb blended whisky”.
Whiskies from the island of Islay have traditionally been made in the heavily peated style, where through the drying of the barley in the malting stage, imbues it with an intense smoky character that is often balanced by flavours of toffee, dried fruits
Lagavulin 16 yo paired with Mint Intense dark chocolate
“I love the way this complex and powerfully built whisky is contrasted by the bright mint notes and the smooth and creamy, bittersweet mouthfeel in this chocolate".
Ardbeg 10 yo paired with Salted Caramel dark chocolate
“The heavily peated, complex oak and subtle caramel characters of this legendary whisky are accentuated by the noticeable saltiness of the chocolate amplifying the sweet caramel and slight bitter toffee and creamy notes of the dark chocolate”.
Highland / Isles Whisky
Whiskies from the highlands span a variety of styles and include some of the most remote distilleries in Scotland. The flavours can be bold and heathery right through to light and maritime-influenced. Each whisky is often nuanced by the terroir within which it is produced, which range from rugged coastline to moor and mountains and variable weather conditions add to the mix. While some are peated, heavily sherried or have a salty tang from the sea, others are fresh, light and grassy. The sherried
The Dalmore 15yo paired with Fruit & Hazelnut dark chocolate
“The rich and bold taste of The Dalmore, with its
Talisker 10yo paired with Sea salt dark chocolate
"This sublime whisky perfectly represents its location as being made by the sea. Elemental in its
How to do it.
Have a taste of the whisky. Have a taste of the chocolate.
Have a more prominent taste of whisky and have a bigger taste of the chocolate. Sit back and savour the flavours.