.whisky dinner

whisky_dinnerWe have gathered a small, but growing group of friends that is interested in whisky. Some of us are just starting to explore the wonders of the water of life, others are nit-picking on cask and barley-types used, and  there is even one that is a professional alcoholic. That is to say, he buys and sells alcohol for a living. In a shop.

With some of these friends, we have decided to get together regularly in order to taste whisky, sometimes based on a theme or budget, but with the main goal to have a good time and exchange ‘knowledge’, drams, and sometimes far fetched anecdotes – depending on the time of night.

During a successful whisky tasting with these friends, where we had set a theme bases on different source materials (barley, 100%-ish corn, rye, buckwheat and bourbon), the idea was born to pair whiskies with food.  The originator of the idea is a great cook himself, and he generously offered to open his house, kitchen and skills to make this suggestion come true. Six weeks later we were together again, all of us having brought our own bottle(s).

During these six weeks, the chef presented a wide variety of courses, from which we democratically made a selection, and with many discussions and a lot of investigation online, from books, consulting whisky-experts, using common sense and trial and error, some whiskies were chosen and paired with the dishes:

~ the appetizer ~
shrimps on a bed of avocado with young leaf-lettuce and a citrus dressing
paired with a Moët & Chandon – champagne


.great starter – still no whisky though

Our host is a big fan of the champagnes of the Moët & Chandon, so as a starter he had prepared this dish with champagne, also as celebration of the his upcoming birthday. It was clear that he had made this dish before. Everything was in perfect balance with each other and the champagne was a good complementary match with the shrimps and fresh dressing.

~ the starter ~
cooked frogfish wrapped in a thin layer of filo dough, bedded on samphire with a Japanese dressing
paired with a Tobermory from the Exclusive Malts.
.pretty as a picture

After the palate was triggered with the shrimps and champagne, the rather sweet and spicy Tobermory complemented great with the fresh japanese dressing and salty tones of the fish and samphire. Going both ways, the dish made the whisky flavours come out, and the whisky the flavours of the dish.

~ the velouté ~
fennel velouté with a tower of eel and fresh herbs
paired with an Isle of Jura 10
.you can also call it ‘soup’
Because of my bad experience with the Jura 10, we were not really looking forward to this dish but, again, this was a combination that went perfectly together. The chef himself was not really satisfied with the consistency and the green-ness of the velouté, but the combination of the eel, cream, fennel and chervil was really nice with the salty, slightly peated flavours the Jura introduced. After a ‘pure’ taste and a sip of whisky, we dropped a teaspoon of the Jura into the soup (let’s just call it that), which completed the balance even further.

~ the main course ~
deer steak with a sauce of eggplants and seasonal vegetables
paired with a MacAllan 12 – fine oak
.great dish, great whisky, not a great match
The dear deer had been marinading in the MacAllan for about twelve hours, in order to induce the flavour of the whisky into the steak. On itself this was a great idea, and the sauce and green vegetables (we hate fava beans, but these were great) were a good match with the medium-rare deer. But, the whisky we had in the glass did not add anything to the dish, if not, we all thought it took something away from it, resulting in a bland, almost boring dish. Reason enough to eat the coarse ‘dry’ and drink the whisky after, in preparation of what was to come.
cheese ~
ten different kinds of cheese
paired with Penderyn Portwood 41

Cheese. Lots of cheese: very old Gouda, brin de Paille, chaumes, ‘Herfse’ cheese, Cambozola, Bresse bleu, fourme d’Ambert, bleu d’Auvergne and Saint Agur. The pairing with the Penderyn was good, but there were so many varieties, that we decided to raid the host’s whisky-cabinet, or try to match bottles that were already opened on the table for whiskies that could even be a better match. Especially with the stronger blue cheeses we found the Jura from the velouté soup and a somewhat stronger Laphroaig cask strength to be a good match, while the fruitier MacAllan and the Tobermory did very well with the more gentle harder cheeses. At the end of the evening every scrap of cheese was gone. The blue ones first, although not everybody was a fan at first.

~ dessert ~
chocolate mousse with a pastille of pink peppers
paired with a cask strength Glenlossie.

Oh. Wake us up any time for this home made chocolate mousse. Because of the cask strength Glenlossie, the chef decided to complement it with a strip of chocolate, infused with pink pepper seeds, in order to complement the bite of the whisky. Success.

~ conclusion ~

This dinner was great. Next morning we (minus one, who returned home at night by public transport) enjoyed a good breakfast with ‘the works’. Coffee, eggs, bacon, coffee, bread, croissants, coffee, tea, toast, marmalade, coffee, milk and fresh orange juice: everything to get us ready to go home again.

Looking back at it after some weeks, we then said to do it again, and I still feel the same. Next time, we could do a little less courses, since after a while we just had more fun then we were seriously tasting the meal and the whiskies. That said, next time we are most likely doing something with rum, although it has not been decided yet if that comes with food or not.

If you or one of your friends likes to cook, be sure to have a go at it sometime. Recipes that match food with whisky are more and more common, and easy to find online or in a growing number of books. In order to present a good dinner, you don’t need a great chef or that many courses as we had, although it obviously helps. Also, tasting food and whisky is great to do together, but try not to be too serious about it and do not make extensive tasting notes. Take some sample bottles with you, in order to have a good taste of the whisky when you are home again. It is better fun for everyone present.

Whatever your idea of having a good time with whisky and whether you like to pair it with food or not, always take in mind that you drink responsible and do not overdo it. Whisky is here for us to drink and enjoy, not to get drunk on (nor for collecting, but that is another discussion al together).

As suggested by one of the attendees in the (Dutch) comment below: a tasting like this can be a real eye-opener and whisky matched with other flavours can be a great combination.
Take in mind though that whisky – because it is high on alcohol, can best be matched with food that is high on taste. The main coarse in our case, was possibly too subtle in order to overpower the high flavour and alcohol of the whisky.

Many strong cheeses with different kinds of whisky can be an evening long tasting on its own. Something to give a try some day. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Guus Arts says:

    Hallo Thomas, Mijn english is not soo best dus ik beantwoord je in het Nederlands. (niet dat dat zo goed is maar toch…)
    idd zo'n proeverij is een echte eyeopener. Whisky kan idd heel goed met andere smaken combineren. Ik heb echter nog wel een voetnoot. Omdat whisky een drank is met een hoog alc. gehalte zijn de smaakhehaltes ook meestal erg hoog. Het lijkt me daarom goed om alleen te combineren met gerechten met hoge smaakgehaltes. Bij the maincourse werd de subtiliteit van het gerecht verstoord door de sterke smaak en hoge alcohol gehalte van de whisky.
    Daar tegenover doet whisky t erg goed bij de kaassoorten en het dessert. Het proeven van verschillende kazen met verschillende whisky's kan een avondvullende proeverij op zich zijn.

    bedankt voor je blog en fijn dat ik er bij mocht zijn.


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