There are evenings when the conversations, the food and drinks blend into one magical whole. Food can be quite unpredictable, but good food often inspires cheer in a rather dull evening.
For fine diners, nothing beats the combo of a delicately prepared meal and perfectly maturated Scotch whisky. If you are talking about a single malt whisky that has sat in the cellar for 12, 15 or 18 years under the fine Scottish weather, then you are courting a memorable dining experience.
So, what makes the food and whisky pairing a remarkable dining experience? And what does it take to get the perfect food-whisky combination?
The beauty of whisky and food pairing is that you get to drink at every level, from the starter to the main course all the way to the dessert. This way, diners get to enjoy a drink, food and company all at the same time.
To warm up for the stylish dinner experience, we had an amuse bouche featuring a roasted cauliflower veloute cream soup and crispy pistachio biscotti. For a starter, we had a salmon pan-seared sashimi, with black sesame, green apple sticks and orange-mint honey emulsion. These went with roasted hazelnut dust and microgreens. The starter was paired with the Singleton 12-year-old.
The thrill of drinking after a meal is not in doubt. But pairing food with whisky is the ultimate clincher for a tried palate.
By the time the main course arrived, the room was humming with conversations, interspersed with hearty laughs as the night wore on.
The main course
For the main, we had an alluring beef tenderloin with oyster mushroom sauté, arrowroots, mascarpone purée, jelly of pear, grilled asparagus, dark chocolate and a one-of-a-kind Barolo reduction wine sauce.
A Singleton 15-year-old was on hand to wash this meal down. Why the 15-year-old? This variant has aromatic properties of toffee apple fragrant punctuated with honeycomb, hints of spice and an underlying fruity cereal notes.
This drink draws in the taste buds with sweet malty and oat tones with a feel of fresh fruit and a drying floral spiciness.
For dessert, we had a chocolate Danduja, berry sorbet, caramelised walnuts, vanilla and sweet caramel parfait. This went with butterscotch sauce and cocoa dust.
It is at the dessert stage that the Singleton 18-year-old came in. What this selection does at the dinner table is mind-blowing. It taps out an aroma of soft roasted nuts, fragrant wood and stewed fruit punctuated by a smooth vanilla and toffee fragrant.
The whisky entices the palate with a dark toffee, mint, almond and a hint of cocoa biscuits.
Notably, and unlike other single malts which must be served dry or on ice but not diluted with mixers, diners may mix this drink with others and have it either as a cocktail, mixer, with ice or on its own.
‘‘Customer preference only acts to enhance its taste. Try your whisky with chocolate, with dessert and anything that you like. Explore as much as you can for a satisfying experience,” notes Tom Jones, Diageo’s global scotch brand ambassador.
Jones was recently in the country, where he met and mentored bartenders, mixologists and connoisseurs on the authentic heritage and the flavour profile of the new range of whisky.
Some foods, Jones observes, are very delicate and have a precise taste. Great caution too has to be observed with spicy foods. When paring such foods with a drink, care should be taken not to compromise their authentic taste. To achieve a sensational experience of food and whisky, a diner must be creative and adventurous to explore different pairings, he says. But more importantly, one must ask three fundamental questions.
‘‘Is the flavour of the food meant to stand out on its own or do you want to contrast it with the drink? Do you want the drink to enhance the flavour of the food? Or do you want the drink to simply accompany the food?’’
For most whisky consumers, distinguishing a brand by age is easier than merely the brand name. It is in response to this trend that EABL has introduced these drinks in the market. The Singleton 15 and 18 year olds single malt whiskies were launched recently by the East African Breweries Limited (EABL), to target new drinkers. They are new additions to the 12-year-old single malt whisky which has been in the market since 2006.
“For consumers who are looking to experience single malt whiskies for the first-time, brand names and labels are a big hindrance,’’ says Jones, adding that it is easier to identify and classify whisky by age than by other parameters.