Relaxing in front of a roaring coal fire, sharing a celebratory toast with friends or taking in the surroundings of one of Scotland’s many fine historic pubs are all scenarios where you wouldn’t go wrong with a dram of our national drink in hand.
But when it comes to dining, have you ever considered swapping the customary glass of wine with a golden-coloured spirit? Keen foodies may have observed an emerging trend for whisky and food pairings, with themed sessions popping up at bars and restaurants all across the country. And with May being Whisky Month, I decided it was the perfect time to take the taste test for myself.
At the Amber Restaurant in the Scotch Whisky Experience on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, marketing manager – and a Keeper of the Quaich – Julie Trevisan Hunter was on hand to help me find some remarkable combinations.
Starting with some delectable smoked salmon, Julie steered me towards Auchentoshan 12-year-old and Glengoyne 10-year-old – both light whiskies with a slightly sweet, citrusy edge which cut through the oily richness of the fish, lifting the flavour. ‘The key to complementing strong-tasting smoked salmon is to avoid whisky that is heavily sweet, spicy, or smoky itself,’ Julie explained.
When asked whether water should be added to whisky, Julie advised that it’s best to have it neat. ‘Water, when added to whisky, opens up aromas which you might not want when focusing on the flavours on the palate,’ she added.
Next, it was onto a selection of Scottish-inspired tapas, which included potted ham hock and a pulled pork terrine, paired with a Clynelish 14-year-old, a soft-bodied, light whisky from the Highlands. Its notes sit around the middle and balance well with the stronger, saltier taste of the meats. For me, this whisky had a slight sweetness with notes of orange, which nicely pulled all the meaty flavours together.
When it comes to Scotland’s national dish, Julie revealed that most whiskies work well with haggis, but we sampled a Bowmore 12-year-old from Islay and a Naked Grouse, a blend aged in first-fill sherry casks. Both beautifully complemented the complex, peppery flavours and textures of the moist, warm haggis.
Two Speyside malts were selected to pair melt-in-your-mouth Tweed Valley beef. The versatile Dalmore 15-year-old and a robust, spicy Glenfiddich Rich Oak, with its longer finish, matched the characteristics of the dish exquisitely; the rich, moreish meat and earthy taste of the accompanying wild mushrooms.
And then we tried a combination which blew me away – the spicy but gorgeously mellow creamy Dunsyre Blue cheese with a powerful, smoky and sweet Lagavullin 16-year-old. Together, there was an undeniable synergy of flavours – the whisky completely transformed the cheese. The spicy blue veins of the Dunsyre Blue married with the peaty sweetness of this dark Islay whisky to create a distinctive but pleasant sharpness. A textural richness immediately followed, simultaneously thick, rich and smooth. Forget the port next time you order a cheeseboard, and peruse the whisky menu instead – you’ll be rewarded with a taste sensation like no other.
They say the proof is in the pudding, and we finished with a pairing of chocolate and whisky – it seemed to be Julie’s personal favourite. A wonderfully bottled Glenmorangie Signet came with a dessert of chocolate delice, and together it was an incredibly indulgent experience. Along with the silky richness of the chocolate, a complex range of flavours mingled together – dark fruits, caramel, ginger and cinnamon – which worked a treat.
Dare to pair
This Whisky Month, why not experience some wonderful whisky and food combinations for yourself? Try some specially developed whisky and food matches from the Amber Restaurant, or head to some of the many amazing events and festivals taking place across the country. Sláinte to that!
If you’ve already discovered some whisky pairings that you love, or you’ve had a brilliant whisky-related experience, let us know via social media using the hashtag #whiskymonth, or check out what others are sharing.