Over the last seven years I have been writing and educating on the topic of Scotch Whisky. When I first started out hosting classes the focus was solely on the whisky. However as my knowledge of whisky grew I began to experiment with different foods.
History of alcohol with food.
The idea of pairing alcohol with food is nothing new. In Medieval times all social classes were enjoying a variety of white and red wines with meals. It was once considered ‘safer’ to drink beer and wine than to drink the water. Especially in the bigger cities like Edinburgh and London.
The first recorded mention of Scotch whisky production was in 1494. At that time it was mainly monks who were distilling alcohol for medicinal purposes. Eventually farmers saw it as a way to earn extra money with surplus of barley crops. Back then Scotch would be un-aged and drank shortly after production, similar to moonshine.
In the last century both wine and whisky production have gone through many improvements. Today we now have the biggest selection of ‘sophisticated’ alcohol beverages available to us. The last twenty years have seen a boom in craft distilling and gastronomy; with customers looking for more interesting ways to explore food and drink. Just flick through the food network program guide to see how far our obsession with food has come.
Most whisky dinners I have attended have followed a similar format to wine dinners. Each course is paired with a whisky which compliments some flavors present in the dish. However I don’t think that pairing whisky with large plates of food does anything to compliment the whisky. The main reason is due to the volume and ABV of the whisky. Typically you would be served a 1/2- 1 ounce of Scotch whisky at a tasting, with an ABV anywhere from 40% (80 proof) to around 65% (130 proof). Wine is usually served in a 3-5oz portion with an ABV of around 10-13% (20-26 proof).Wine is a perfect accompaniment to a meal, whereas I believe that whisky is better served with small plates or appetizer platters.
Too many flavors can overwhelm the palate and can make it hard to pick out the main tasting notes in the whisky. There can also be quite an alcohol burn when drinking liquor that you don’t get from wine. Whisky is designed to be sipped, so ideally you are looking to accompany it with bites that will ‘highlight’ or compliment the main flavors in the dram. For example a smokey Scotch like Laproaig Quarter Cask works really well with a dark sea salt caramel truffle. The balance between sweet and smokey is there with a layer of creamy smoothness, and the vanilla is accentuated by the extra oak in the maturation.
Over the last year we have tried to put together a selection of tasting events which are fun and informative. Some of our events were planned to work with the key flavors of the whisky such as Bourbon & Ice Cream. Others were chosen for their social relationship like Bacon & Bourbon. We have just launched our Fall calendar of whisky & food events. We hope that you will join us soon!