I have enjoyed trying new wines and pairing them with my favorite foods, at restaurants and at home, for many years. It is a popular activity for professional chefs and oenophiles as well as the casual wine enthusiast to analyze the flavors and textures of wines to find the best dishes to compliment them. My husband and I have visited many wineries, talked with their wine makers, belonged to wine clubs (which has delightfully caused a wine glut in our home) and attended wine tastings to learn as much about wine as possible. Since there are so many options available, I am thankful my wonderful husband has an encyclopedic brain and can remember the different brands, varietals, vintages, prices and characteristics and then recall any tidbit at a moments notice.
Over the past few years I have tried to expand this to scotch whisky but have been intimidated by the enormous depth and breadth of options. The good thing for me is that my encyclopedic husband has excellent taste in scotch and can identify the attributes that make one a better match to a specific dish.
Whisky varies wildly in flavor based on the region in which it was produced, the distillery, the distilling process, the wood in which it is matured, its age and many more factor. No two whiskies are alike – every one has its own unique personality.
I found a matrix arranges many popular Scotch whiskies on a two-dimensional grid. One axis explores the flavor of whiskies, from light to rich, while the other addresses level of complexity, from delicate to smoky. It is a great way to find whiskies that may have similar or complimentary characteristics to one that you already enjoy. Check out the flavor map at: http://www.malts.com/index.php/en_us/Choosing-Whisky/A-World-of-Flavour/The-Single-Malt-Whisky-Flavour-Map.
Before you start pairing whiskies with food, I recommend tasting several different ones from different regions on the grid to learn how different ones taste and discover your preferences. Pour a little bit into a special whisky tasting glass. Do not add ice. If you must add water, don’t add more than a teaspoon, as it will change the flavor.
- Twirl it around then get really close to the whisky and take a deep sniff. Think about the scents you smell (this is called the nose).
- Then take a bit of whisky in your mouth. Don’t swallow yet! Let it roll around in your mouth. Feel the liquid on your tongue. Take note of what you taste (this is called the palate).
- Finally, swallow. After a moment, make a list of the flavors that linger in your mouth (this is called the finish). Based on my experience, this cannot be done at one sitting, for obvious reasons.
It has taken me months, more like a few years, to be able to describe my tasting experiences. Taking notes after each taste is a great way to remember your impressions for future comparison.
The next step is to analyze the foods you eat to detect the flavors they contain. Again, taking notes is a great idea.
The best part of the process begins when you get to put the first two steps together. There are several different approaches to pairing whisky with food. You can pair based on similar flavors. If you detect a flavor in a whisky, look for a food that contains that flavor. For example, my Pondicherry Pouillabaisse recipe has a bit of a lemony, citrus flavor. It pairs well with the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban that also has a hint of citrus in its flavor notes. Another method is to look for opposites. If you have a mild whisky, try pairing it with a rich or spicy dish. I like to pair my Piri Piri Chicken Curry recipe with Balvenie Caribbean Cask (14 Year) because the sweet, creamy flavor of vanilla work well with the vegetables, tang and spice of the curry.
Matching whisky with food is a fun activity that may spark much animated or heated discussion as to which scotch is best and why it is so. Fortunately everyone will be correct in their opinions because each person’s palate detects whisky’s attributes differently and prefers different flavors. The fun part is the discussion of what can be detected by the nose, from rolling a bit around the tongue at the start, middle and end of a sip and the finish.
In my next post I will give you my thoughts about pairing Scotch with South Indian food. Yes, they do go well together.