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Issue 58 - A Match Made in Heaven

Scotland Magazine Issue 58
August 2011

 

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A Match Made in Heaven

Gavin D. Smith looks at some great ways to enhance your whisky drinking experience.

What do you drink with a meal? Wine, of course.

Everyone knows that. But what if you’re in Scotland and surrounded by dozens of tempting Scotch whiskies? Is it possible to successfully pair food and whisky?

Traditionally, whisky was considered to be too strongly flavoured and assertive to be drunk in combination with food; best kept for an afterdinner dram, along with a good cigar. However, not everyone was prepared to accept that view, and experimentation ultimately proved that if you get the matching right, the strength and complexity of whisky can be a real plus, enhancing rather than overpowering the flavours in a meal.

One of the first distilling companies to recognise this fact was Diageo, Scotland’s largest distiller, with 29 malt distilleries to its name. A visit to the company website www.malts.com reveals a ‘Malt Matcher’ feature. Want to know which Diageo single malt brand is considered the most appropriate partner for sushi? The site offers a suggestion and explains why. “A light, delicate food such as sushi deserves an equally graceful partner such as the Glenkinchie, whose sweet and creamy tones carry with them a subtle, floral fragrance.” Meanwhile, chorizo sausage is apparently ideal with the Islay malt Caol Ila. “This smoked pork sausage flavoured with garlic and chilli works well with the sweet start of the Caol IIa, followed by the fragrant smokiness and sweet-smoky lingering finish.” Whyte & Mackay Master Blender Richard Paterson is a keen advocate of whisky and food pairing, and he declares that “Food and whisky is really just as natural as food and wine, or bread and water. If there is a wine to suit every dish, then the same is just as true of single malt Scotch whiskies.

Each is the product of an individual distillery, much like a chateau-bottled wine, and everyone has its own personality.

(Amber Restaurant, 354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE, tel. +44 (0) 131 2200441 – www.amber-restaurant.co.uk).

Heading north into Perthshire, The Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret distillery has also enthusiastically embraced food and whisky matching, offering an exclusive dinner by the name of Fasan Ur. This is described as “A unique, sensory fine dining experience to discover the wealth of flavours found in ‘The water of life.’” A Famous Grouse spokesperson says that “With exclusive use of our restaurant you receive a choice of six to nine courses, indulging you in a passion for food and whisky. A meal intrinsically Scottish but international in feel – where the serving of wine becomes irrelevant, through the synergy of Scottish cuisine matched with the range of malt and blended whisky to engage all the senses.” Should you wish to be much more hands-on in your approach to the subject, the Famous Grouse Experience also runs a Cook School, where the day begins with a session nosing your way through the principal aromas to be found in a range of whiskies, helping you to discover which ones best complement different foods.

The award-winning resident chef then shows you how to create an array of courses before letting you recreate three of the dishes for yourself. It pays to make a good job of them, as they will subsequently be served as your lunch, along with a brace of whiskies (The Famous Grouse Experience, Glenturret distillery, Crieff, Perthshire PH7 4HA, tel. + 44 (0) 1764 656565 – www.thefamousgrouse.com).

Also in Perthshire, the Monachyle Mhor Hotel near Balquidder regularly teams up with Glengoyne distillery to offer ‘Food and Whisky Master Classes.’ These events operate on a residential basis and feature a range of Glengoyne whiskies, including the ultra-exclusive 40 Year Old, along with cooking demonstrations by hotelier and chef Tom Lewis (Monachyle Mhor Hotel, Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Perthshire FK19 8PQ, tel. + 44 (0) 1877 384622 – www.mhor.net).

Going one step further than pairing food with whisky is actually using the golden nectar in food preparation, and anyone wishing to pursue that path should obtain a copy of the excellent book The Whisky Kitchen, written by Graham Harvey and Sheila McConachie. Graham and Sheila own and run Craggan Mill Restaurant & Gallery near Grantown-on-Spey in Moray (tel. +44 (0) 1479 872288 - www.cragganmill.co.uk).

Happy eating, drinking and matching!