Steps Forward at the Table
malt Scotch: a delight usually refrained from until after dinner.
Most popular pairing: the cigar. But pairing Scotch with food? General
opinion has always held that it’s too strong, in flavor and
in alcohol. Even in Scotland there isn’t much of a tradition
of drinking a dram with dinner. But if you’re a Scotch fan,
why reserve your favorite whisky for the end of the meal when you
could drink it the whole evening?
took two iconic distilleries to the table with me and drummed up
a meals-worth of recipes for each of them: soup, appetizer, fish,
meat, and dessert. Macallan is a classic Speyside Scotch; it’s
big and rich, but remains elegant despite its weight: the full Scottishness
of a bagpipe marching band. For contrast I also picked out an Island
malt. I turned not to Islay, home of some of Scotland’s most
famous distilleries, but to Orkney, that small cluster of islands
at the very north of Scotland. Less than a handful of distilleries
still operate there, but Highland Park continues to make wonderful
Scotch with a toned-down peaty quality and floral, heathery notes
that make it particularly food-friendly.
you don’t want – or can’t afford – to serve
a vertical of Macallan or Highland Park with your Scotch dinner,
don’t sweat it too much. The recipes below were chosen to
match the house style of the distilleries, not individual bottlings.
So while I do recommend specific ages of Scotch for each recipe,
don’t be afraid to buy a single bottle of your favorite and
enjoy it throughout the course of your meal. I recommend serving
your single malt neat, with the lightest splash of spring water;
toning down the alcohol this way allows the Scotch’s aromatic
complexities to shine through and makes it easier to achieve a food-Scotch
and a cappucino might come together at the end of a meal, so why
not reverse things by serving with a Macallan as your
first course. Macallan’s flagship line is aged exclusively
in used sherry casks; the flavors this imparts will blend well with
the Sherry and sherry vinegar in the recipe. The lobster and cream
are rich enough to balance the Scotch more generally. The sherry
connection becomes most explicit with the Macallan 25 Years Old.
mature cheeses go well with Island malts. Try together with a Highland Park;
the 12 Years Old is optimal. The Scotch’s touches of smoke
and peat round out the savory notes of the Brie while heather and
honey emphasize the sweetness of the pear. The complexity of the
combination is startling given the simplicity of the dish.
Whisky is very popular in Japan, and, lacking any contrary tradition,
they have had no reservations about serving it with their native
cuisine. The resulting discovery: sushi and whisky get along like
a house on fire. To complicate things further, add a Scandinavian
element and serve Marcus Samuelsson’s Herring Sushi Roll with
Black Mustard together with a Highland Park, preferably the 12 Years
Old again. The Scotch’s sweetness will temper the wasabi and
mustard while the smokiness adds depth to the herring itself.
For Macallan, makes a great variation on the whisky
and raw fish theme. It’s a head-to-head encounter between
two rich products. What ties the two together is the nutty notes
in the Scotch – the 18 Years Old may be the best match in
this respect – and the sesame seeds, soy sauce, and honey.
mixed sushi I generally prefer blended whiskies, whether Scotch,
Irish, Canadian, or American; while each has its own character,
they’re generally more versatile in this respect. For single
malts, sushi pairings are often all-or-nothing affairs, so half
of a mixed sushi plate taste great and the other half suffers.
takes its name from the Spey River, Scotland’s second longest
and fastest flowing river; it happens to be a great place for salmon
as well. Borrow a rule from wine: serve a whisky with food native
to the region where it is made. Alfred Portale’s recipe for
works well with the
Macallan, particularly the 25 Years Old. Once again, a rich fish
meets a rich Scotch. In addition, smoky flavors in the Scotch add
another dimension to the salmon itself, while the darker flavors
in the Scotch emphasize the earthiness of the aromatic mushrooms
and the brussel sprouts.
Highland Park I like a steaky fish like mahi mahi or swordfish.
Island malts get along well with Indian dishes as long as the heat
isn’t through the roof;
makes a great example of this pairing – try the 18 Years Old.
The heather of the Scotch lightens the dish; smoke, honey, and peat
counterpoint the chutney. Ginger, whether in sweet or savory dishes,
is great with many younger Island malts.
meats – especially the gamy ones – make excellent partners
with Scotch. Put on the table with a glass of
Highland Park. The smoky flavors round out the game, and the Scotch’s
malt complements the celery root. At the same time the fruity persimmons
lighten the Scotch by bringing out the heather and floral aromas.
The 12 Years Old will lighten the dish as a whole, whereas the 18
Years Old makes for a more of a cool weather combination.
with meat, Speyside and Highland malts often pair well with chocolate.
Put this to good use with Guy Martin’s recipe for . The dark, rich espresso and chocolate flavors will
match with similar flavors in the Scotch, just as the blueberry
preserves bring some life to the Scotch’s dried fruit flavors.
The Macallan Cask Strength makes the best pairing in these regards.
The Scotch, in turn, also has some spice to offer up alongside the
aromatic accompaniments in the dish.
careful putting garlic and Scotch together; they tend to fight each
other. It only works here because the powerful flavors of coffee,
chocolate, and lamb keep the garlic in check.
with the Macallan Cask Strength – chocolate combination and
finish your meal with . But
with this pairing the hazelnut streusel, together with vanilla and
caramel sauces, emphasize a different side of the Scotch, pulling
forth latent sherry, nutmeg, and spice aromas.
I touched on during the fish course, Highland Park would go well
with ginger-based sweets – I remember escaping the rain in
Glasgow to enjoy a warming snack of Highland Park 12 Years Old with
a packet of Walkers Stem Ginger Shortbread cookies. But Highland
Park also goes well with citrus fruits – pairs well on several points. The
25 Years Old in particular creates a big orchestral chord of flavors:
floating citrus notes on top, the Scotch’s rich fudge and
honey in the bass, and the white chocolate mousse fleshing out the
middle register and binding it all together. There’s a touch
of gin in the grapefruit sauce; it’s a subtle difference,
but I prefer one with a less herbal profile with this pairing –
think Bombay Sapphire or Damrak.
More Scotch, of course.