Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Compass Box - Pacari Chocolate pairing tasting event at the St. Giles Hotel Court Bar.

Hedonism and Lemongrass chocolate
Last week I posted about the press preview for the Compass Box - Pacari Chocolate pairing event. Tonight the event went down. I have already described the pairings in detail, so in this post I'm going to make two key points: 1) the event was FUN! I have been a shy family oriented stay-at-home-Dad for years. Attending the event was a really entertaining experience.  It was a way to get out and play at a cool venue and have some new experiences. And 2) my experience of the tasting match ups changed - and were different this time - which was a real surprise with a significant lesson.

Francisco Vivar discusses chocolate
As before the event was captained by Robin Robinson, the US brand ambassador for Compass Box Whisky and by Francisco Vivar, the importer of Pacari Chocolate.  The event was held at the St. Giles Hotel Court Bar - a cool room on Lexington and 39th, near Grand Central on the slopes of Murray Hill.  The bar was the setting for the tasting event - and is pretty well stocked.  A lot of nice malts were visible behind the bar.  I might have to go back.

Before the event began I hung out with the interesting and sophisticated NYC crowd.  I met a number of fascinating people including George Gensler, a co-founder of the Manhattan Chocolate Society and frequent reviewer on - a very cool woman who dashingly sports a very male name, and Henrietta of the hip  Bloggers and epicures - my kind of crowd.

Robin Robinson lights some peat.
When the show got going Francisco Vivar presented the ecological and community focus of Pacari Chocolate - which is very focused on  sustainability, fair trade, organic cultivation, and use of local Ecuadorian ingredients and manufacturing.  Robin Robinson, by contrast is a whisky showman of the first order.  This time he had props: a model of an oak barrel with a charred interior, samples of oak staves, a bottle of caramel color, and a lump of peat.  Each of the props was introduced at the appropriate time.  The peat, for example, came out when the Peat Monster was poured.  Robinson explained what peat was (colorfully) and then lit the peat and let it smoulder.  The intense smoky aroma vividly brought home where the peatiness of peated malts comes from.

Having already written about the specific pairings took the heat off and I could really relax and enjoy the whisky and the chocolate.  Somehow, a number of things struck me differently:
  • Asyla is more than just floral and super thin and blonde.  It has  lychee and citrus herb notes in the nose, a velvety mouth feel and a sweetness, herbs, more lychee, malt sugars and mineral notes on the tongue.  The 70% chocolate it was paired with is smooth if you suck it and not chew it.  It has a rich heady cocoa fermented winey flavor.   This pairing was working better for me today.
  •  Great King St. Artist's Blend with golden berries paired nicely again - the lemon in the Artist's Blend picking up very nicely the citrusy sour/sweet of the golden berries.  It's a citrus note harmonic reinforcement.  The dark chocolate blended nicely with the malt foundation and bakery notes in GKSAB.
    Robin Robinson loves what he does.
  • Hedonism was much more intensely flavored for me today.  Coconut and cocoa butter dominated the nose.  I noticed less of an acid brightness in the flavor - it seemed more smooth and elegant and I got a lot more cocoa and toasted coconut in the flavor as well.  This made me enjoy the Hedonism more to sip - but less as a pairing with the excellent Pacari lemongrass chocolate.  This time the lemongrass dominated the succulent cocoa and coconut flavors of Hedonism and it didn't meld into a new flavor for me today.
  • The Peat Monster was even more monstrous with Robinson burning peat and waving the aromatic smoke around the room.  The pairing with the incredible Pink Salt and Nibs flavor of Pacari was amazing again.  The salt air of the whisky and the vivid salt flakes in the chocolate aligned, as did the smoky richness of the cacao and the rich smokiness of the peat in the peat monster.  These two simply work in harmony. 
  • Orangerie and Chili chocolate emerged as my favorite this time.  The wicked heat and glorious dueling orange and coriander seed aromatics from the scented whisky and chocolate.  Just a brilliant combination.                                                                                 
The fact that so many things struck me differently shows how mercurial the process of tasting is.  Influenced by mood and perception, and also semi-tangibles like temperature, time of air breathing etc... a multitude of factors bears on subjective enjoyment.  This stressed in my mind the importance of repeated tasting before coming to hard conclusions.

This issue of variability didn't get in the way of my fun, however.   I enjoyed most everything tremendously.  It was a tasty experience that confirmed what I had previously discovered: that food and whisky can pair brilliantly.  It is a lesson well worth learning.


  1. I may have said this in my comment on your earlier post, but this event just sounds awesome. I've only ever tried The Peat Monster, but I have a bottle of The Spice Tree sitting in my inventory waiting for our June Tasting Party.

    While I would love to try Oak Cross, Orangerie (with chili infused dark chocolate...hmmm...), and Hedonism, our access to Compass Box expressions here in Ontario is very, very limited, and the LCBO is even running short of Spice Tree as we speak...

  2. Dan - thanks. The pairings really did work. The fact that they changed and shifted with a repeat testing shows me how deep and worthwhile this pairing business is. I'm definitely going to do more with this. Last night before the tastings Robin Robinson recommended bourbon and bacon. Ryan mentioned bourbon and cinnamon babka. You mentioned "Glenmorangie 10yr and baklava, Peat Monster and smoked salmon, Auchentoshan Three Wood and Christmas Toffee Cake". These are all divine sounding starting points.

    I'm also going to go lowbrow too. How about Fritos and Hornitos Anejo (cheap sweet Anejo Tequila)? Yes, Tequila. I know what you're thinking - there's no tequila in the masthead. But I said "wood barrel coopered spirits" and the last I checked Reposado and Anejo spend at least a year (or two or more) in the oak. YEAH BABY! I actually did the Hornitos with a home made vegetable curry stew I make by the 5 gallon pot and freeze for lunches late last night after the tasting event. I use Penzey's Vindaloo spice, cooked in the oil with the onions before the beans and veggies go in. It's hot. The pairing with the dark honey sweet Hornitos was aces - but it may just have been my elated mood...

    The other epicurean direction I'm going to go is deeper into chocolate itself. I met more chocolate people this time around the fact that there are so many deeply obsessed obviously intelligent chocolate people is telling me something very loudly about the 70 percenters. (I.e. their nuts - or that chocolate addition is stimulating and rewarding). Time to read the master again:

    Stuart Robson of Connosr and