For many of us the ultimate expression of fine dining is a well-crafted, multi-course dinner accompanied by an appropriate wine for each course. There are few greater pleasures in life than the wonderful tango of food and wine. Still, don’t you sometimes wonder if it can be done a little differently? Perhaps another beverage that has the versatility and characteristics which makes wine such a perfect partner of food?
Anyone with a little knowledge and understanding of beverages will know the answer: the Scottish ‘water of life- usquebaugh’ a Gaelic word from which the term whisky has emerged. Within the vast world of whisky it is the ‘Single Malts’ that hold the most promise because of their close resemblance to wines, not necessarily in taste but in characteristics which make them ideal for food pairing. Like wine, Scotch whisky is a natural artisan product with a lot of skill and craft involved in its production to achieve consistent results of distinction. It also happens to be the most popular spirit drink traditionally enjoyed before and after dinner or sometimes as a cocktail (not by purists though who believe the addition of any third element besides some pure water can ruin the dram).
The increasing popularity of Single Malts in the last decade or so has opened up the potential of Scotch whisky as a fine accompaniment to food. Single Malt Scotch Whisky is a whisky from a single distillery made using 100% malted barley and water by batch distillation in copper pot stills. Malt whisky which has more flavour constituents than blended whiskies is generally matured in oak casks for at least 10 years even though the mandatory requirement is only 3 years. During the maturation process the harsher constituents mellow and some of the characteristic flavours, aromas and colour develop. There are over hundred pot still malt distilleries in Scotland. Each of these produce malt whiskies which differ considerably in flavour and bouquet depending on several factors like geographical region (Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Campbeltown and Island), climate and natural elements like water and peat (used in the kiln in which the malt is dried which gives it a smoky, somewhat pungent flavour).
Other factors include the distillation process, the size and shape of stills and the maturation process in oak casks. With so many variables it is natural that the single malt whiskies vary from light, floral and fruity to full bodied, earthy, smoky and peaty. It is this diversity of nose and palate that makes it possible for different single malt whiskies to be married to and enjoyed with different kinds of food. The pairing principle for Single Malts is no different from that of wines. In both cases one has to ensure the ‘balance’ of flavour, strength, aroma and taste. The term ‘balance’ here means that neither the Single Malt nor the food should dominate each other. The natural progression has to be from Lowland to Highland and then to Island and from young to old.
Using this rule of thumb, one of my favourite pairings is the Dalmore 12 years with Stuffed morels with whisky and honey reduction. This single Highland malt of great distinction with hints of Olorosso Sherry (from the maturing casks), orange and spice notes and a well-rounded, rich citrus mouth feel and woody finish is a great match for the exotic, earthy flavours of morels, creamy ricotta honey and olives.
The other is a more complex single malt called Jura Superstition made from island malts 13 to 15 years old. Despite being an island malt it does have the heavy peaty and smoky characteristics prevalent in the malts from Islay. With its multiple flavour profile it marries very well with the robust flavour of Rosemary and almond crusted lamb chops with whisky and wine sauce.
.Although it may be virtually impossible to replace wine with Single Malt at the dinner table, it has definitely emerged as an exciting option that can add a lot of panache and vigour to fine dining in recent times.
SINGLE MALT DINNER MENU
CANAPES & COCKTAILS
Savoury olive and herb scones
Scottish smoked salmon and caper scones
Pairing- Single Malt Special Cocktails- Whisky Sour & Mint Julep
Ayrshire potato salad deconstruction – roasted potatoes, onion, truffle, green pea gazpacho and beet foam
Whisky grilled scampi with avocado salad
Pairing – The Dalmore, 12years
Pan grilled silken tofu with roasted pepper and basil
Oat meal crusted Scottish salmon with sautéed mushroom and whisky sabayon
Pairing – Jura Superstition
Sweet lime sorbet
Tomato confit, mint and goat cheese tart with whisky-saffron beurre blanc
Shepherd’s pie deconstructed – slow braised lamb leg, feuilletage of baby onion, potato and sun-dried tomato and whisky jus
Pairing – The Dalmore, Gran Reserva
Raspberry cranachan, whisky flavoured chocolate fudge and fig ice cream
Tome de savoie English cheddar and with tea pot de crème and cornichons
Petit fours and coffee
Pairing – Dalmore Cigar Malt