I've been pairing food and wine my whole life. More often than not I have wine with dinner so it's (almost) a daily task. But when we create dinners around a collection of whiskies, that's a different story.
Many of our spirit seminars are accompanied by finger foods and hors d'oeuvres but around Bobby Burns Day we do a complete five course dinner around some 7 or 8 single malt Scotches. Here's a menu whipped up by the geniuses at eat Mosaic in Saint James for us for our Jan 2012 dinner:
- 1st Course: smoked crudo, chilled marshmallow risotto, cherry-blue cheese migonette, toasted seeds
- 2nd Course: roast sturgeon, leek “stuffing” pancake, cinnamon fried parsnip, bacon, apple-oyster beurre blanc with: Highland Park 8 Year "MacPhail's Collection," Orkney Islands; Benromach 10 Year, Speyside & Tormore 14 Year "Connoisseurs' Choice," Speyside
- 3rd Course: sauteed duck leg pierogi, brussels sprout kraut, and caraway candied lemon foie gras creme fraiche
- 4th Course: Moroccan spice roast pork shoulder, lentil moussaka, minted dry fruits manchengo, cola gastrique with: Imperial Port Finish 15 Year "Private Collection" Speyside; Old Pulteney 21 Year "Rare Highland," Highlands & Glenrothes 30 Year "MacPhail's Collection," Speyside
- 5th Course, Dessert: bitter chocolate Irish oatmeal, raspberry, orange, almond, honey with: Caol Ila 10 Year "Connoisseurs' Choice," Islay
Looking into this a bit, I've found some guidelines and suggestions for pairing Scotches with food. Here are two menus with the Scotches as an ingredient as well as in the glass alongside each course. These menus were created by a restaurant manager in Scotland and are obviously much more conservative than the innovative dishes turned out at eatMosaic in Saint James. This chef's philosophy is to serve local food with local drink which has always been a safe bet in wine and food pairings as well.
1. Seared Scallops flamed in Glenturret 10 with Pea Puree and Mint Butter Sauce.
2. White Onion and Strathdon Cheese Soup with Tullibardine 1993 Cream and Croutons.
3. Lemon, Ginger and Glenfiddich Liqueur Granite
4. Shoulder and Loin of Scottish Lamb, Wild Mushrooms, Garlic Roast Potatoes, Rosemary and Springbank 10 Reduction
5. Dark Chocolate and Benromach 15 Pot with White Chocolate and Almond Biscotti
6. Coffee and Handmade Truffles laced with Dunkeld Athol Brose (a great Scotch liqueur), served with Glenfiddich Solera 15 or Athol Brose
The second menu:
1. Tien of Smoked Salmon marinated in Glen Farclas 12 with Creme Fraiche and Arugula
2. Wild Mushroom Consome with Glenrothes 1992 and tarragon
3. Cranberry, Apple and Drambuie Sorbet
4. Breast of Gressingham Duck, Pearl Barley and Spinach Risotto, Highland Park 12, Lime and Heather Honey Jus
5. Apricot and Vanilla Parfait with Balblair 10 Syrup and Cumin Shortbread
6 Coffee and truffles like the previous menu.
Here are some general guidelines for matching the various regional styles of Scotches with specific foods. As with wine you want to balance the weight of the scotch with the richness of the food and the flavor profile as well.
Scotch has its own vocabulary for its characteristic flavors and aromas. There are many subtleties to scotch. Describing it as a wet dog drying himself off in front of a campfire made of creosote soaked railroad ties only begins to describe the nuances of a Scotch. There are influences of the maritime climate of the Island malts. Different cask types, aging in used Sherry cask vs. aging in used Bourbon cask, or any number of other types of casks, degree of peat is big too.
As with wines, sometimes you look to complement the salient characteristic as in matching smoked salmon to a smoky scotch. Peat and its phenolic family of flavors is the most obvious flavor and smell associated with Scotch whisky but there are many more. Floral components, malty components, nuttiness, brininess, tastes of dried fruit, tastes of unsweetened cocoa or coffee can be found. It really is endless. Here are some good flavor combinations to get you started.
Islay Scotches are from the Island of Islay and tend to be more peated so try these combinations:
- smoked oysters
- smoked salmon
- smoked almonds
Sherried Scotches are aged in used Sherry casks and the Sherry is like a layer of honey over the smoke and peat of the whisky, it definitely lends some sweetness and some carmelly, nutty flavors:
- dark chocolate
- chocolate chip cookies
- chocolate-covered coffee beans
- creme brulée
Highland and Speyside Scotches are not generally very peaty they show more malty, nutty and even flavors of cocoa and spices, try these combinations:
- semi-sweet dark chocolate
- Gravestein or Granny Smith apple slices, dipped in cinnamon honey
Campbeltown produces generally lightly peated whiskies done in Sherry or Bourbon cask so try:
- humus with eggplant
The principles are the same as matching food and wine – it's just that you are conducting an orchestra of instruments you've never heard before.