Late March 2015, Spring has just begun and we were invited to a whisky and food pairing in our own city of Almere, the Netherlands. Almere does not have a rich history of whisky (nor, for that matter, a history at all), but the organisers had managed to get about 25 people together in restaurant Krab aan de Haven in the harbour – of the oldest part of Almere. Dutch Glenfiddich ambassador and whisky enfant terrible [meant lovingly] Tony van Rooijen was selected as our host for the afternoon, and had, together with the restaurant’s chef, cooked up a line-up of six different whiskies paired with six small dishes.
As we could have expected with Tony, he started the tasting with his favourite dram; the Glenfiddich 15yo. As we all know the 15yo is a gentle, honey sweet dram, and influenced by the Solera System, has an added layer of fruitiness to it. The – to us quite surprising – pairing was done with a duo of sushi. Both were composed of rice and tuna, one had an extra crust of herbs and sesame seeds. Although either worked very well with the whisky, the one with the sesame seeds was the one that was our personal favourite.
Next was another Tony special – a Balvenie. In this particular case, the Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14yo. Matured in ex-Bourbon casks and finished in an ex-Rum cask, this is a combination of sweet vanilla flavours and an extra layer of sweet sugarcane, fitting very well with the floral distillate the Balvenie already shows of itself. Paired with the crème brullée, it was ok, but the sweet custard / vanilla and crusty sugar in the crème brulée was a bit too complementary to make a difference. If it did anything, the sweetness of the whisky was a bit tempered, and there could be caught a slight nutty / bitterness that was not there before. Not the best combination of the afternoon, but there was more to come.
And more came, to be found in the Macallan Amber. We are not big fans of the Macallan, and it is not a big secret that the 1824 series is not one to be found by our own choice in our cabinet. Discussion aside, sulphur ignored, it is an okay dram with dried-fruit sherry influences, and a fresh and floral overall result. Paired with a Spanish Fuet sausage however, it is a beautiful, sweet and spicy combination that is dangerously delicious – an unexpected result. The sausage on itself was nice, but the peppery crust was quite spicy. At the same time, that same spice lifted the sweetness and pushed back the sulphur from the Macallan quite a bit, which resulted in this beautiful combination.
Next was another distillery that is not on the top of our lists: the Highland Park distillery. However, by chance, our favourite choice of their standard range – the 18yo – was poured and paired with stewed beef. An excellent example of how a briny whisky with a hint of smoke can combine with a sweet and slightly fat, tender piece of stewed beef. Nothing further to add, this was a great pairing.
In contrast with the previous two, lesser popular distilleries [according to the Whisky Speller opinion], the next distillery is one that makes our whisky heart run a little faster; Bruichladdich. The Bruichladdich Scottish Barley has, with its 50% alcohol, quite a bite on its own, together with the ex-Bourbon cask’s vanilla influences and the overall smoothness. A lovely dram on its own and it turns out that it pairs very well with a piece of smoked halibut. The smoky flavours of the halibut went very well with the spiciness of the higher abv, and the creaminess from the already fatty dram mixed the whole shebang together into a mouthful of pleasure. Too bad there was only one piece of halibut per person, we could have done with one or two re-tastes.
The last but not the least dram of the afternoon was another Bruichladdich, but from a different caliber: the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley. Smoky whiskies tend to do very well with cheese, and in the case of a Portuguese raw milk cheese, it is an understatement to say they fit very well indeed. Raw, peaty whisky and a salty, hard cheese, slightly lifting up a gentle sweetness in each other – a proven combination.
It turns out that Tony is a great chef himself and had some pointers towards – of course – Glenfiddich based recipes:
Our own tip for experimenting with whisky and food is a great book written by Sheila McConachie: The Whisky Kitchen, a 228 pages hardcover from GW Publishing.
More pictures of these pairings and the event can be found on our Facebook page