Now - that's the zeitgeist. It isn't me. Personally, I normally detest having good whisky with food. I don't want anything to distract from the pure flavors of distilled spirit. I also find that distilled spirits wallop the palate which pretty severely alters the experience of the food. However in a carefully wrought pairing, that's the whole idea. The flavors combine into something new. I'll admit I was skeptical about this chocolate/whisky pairing thing until I had a first hand experience. If you're in New York next week, you can too.
A fun whisky and chocolate pairing event will be going down on the evening of March 27, 2012: the Pacari Chocolate & Compass Box Whisky pairing event at the St. Giles Hotel in New York from 5-7pm. Tickets are $35 on line. That's a pretty decent price to taste an extensive flight of nice whisky - and a group of very tasty chocolate bars and enrobed exotic fruits. But this is going to be a bit more than just a flight of whisky and some chocolate - some real thought has gone into the specific pairings in this event.
How do I know? In my capacity as a whisky blogger I attended a press preview of this event and I'll give you the full lowdown (thanks, Whisky Woman, for providing the opportunity!).
|Amanda Diepeveen of ays by the cornucopia of Compass Box whisky and Pacari chocolate.|
The chocolates in the pairing are the organic fair trade Ecuadorian Pacari chocolates. This company specializes in raw, ultra dark chocolate that has the clear flavor signature of the nibs. They utilize local and characteristic Andes fruits and spices in their products to bring a sense of terroir. As a man who regularly eats raw cacao nibs, I really appreciate how closely the flavor profile of Pacari hews to the flavors of whole raw cacao. It's masterful stuff. If any chocolate has a chance at standing up to a mouth full of straight whisky it's this stuff.
The show was MC'ed by Compass Box's US brand ambassador Robin Robinson and Pacari's Francisco Vivar. They are a couple of jovial and informed showmen. I've caught Robinson's act before. He's particularly engaging and entertaining. If you come to the March 27th event you will be entertained and will probably learn something too.
Here how the pairings go down - full tasting notes of the whiskys and pairings:
|Robin Robinson, Compass Box Ambassador,||pours Asyla.|
2) Great King Street Blended Scotch paired with Pacari chocolate covered golden berries: Great King Street is a rich golden yellow. The nose is nice and rich with sweet and salted butter, butterscotch, and sultanas (rich golden raisins). Entry is sweet with toffee, midpalate broadens with slight sherry notes, some bakery notes (apple crisp) mild spirit heat and some oaky vanilla perfume. Finish is gentle and short. No grain burn or any trace of coffey still fishy oniony flavor signature detected. Very nice. (Great King Street is a potential Johnny Walker Black Label killer and I'll be doing a full review including a head to head of that duo in the very near future.) The pairing worked with golden berries that have a sultana-like flavor and an addictive crisp texture arising out of crystal sugars and the fibrous berry's dried body - nicely draped with a crisp thin shell of intensely flavored inky dark Pacari chocolate. The pairing put the vibrance of the berries in harmony with the soft fruits of the whisky. Great King has more malt body - so it holds up to the robust chocolate better - plus the berries have less chocolate so the flavors were more equally matched and neither overwhelmed the other.
|Pacari's Francisco Vivar (left) and Compass Box's Robin Robinson|
3) Hedonism grain Scotch whisky paired with Pacari Lemongrass chocolate bar.
Hedonism is pale gold. Light sherry with spiced notes of clove and allspice on the nose. Entry is bright and sassy with sweet white grape. Expansion is quick and light with coconut, cake batter and toffee. Body is very light. Finish has kiss of oak and vanilla floral note. The pairing here is inspired. The Lemongrass in the chocolate is citrusy and highly aromatic. The bright opening of Hedonism picks it up and their symphony is intensely vegetal, rich, tasty and unexpected. The best matchup of the day - but other good ones follow.
4) Peat Monster paired with Pacari Pink Salt & nibs bar. Peat Monster was even better than I remembered: pale gold in color with a rich nose that hits iodine first, then earthy peat and maritime brine with warm sweetness underneath. Entry is bright and toffee sweet like Caol Ila 12. Then smoke and a rich coffee (with cream and sugar) note followed by a salty ocean breeze. Some nice oak and vanilla on the short gentle finish. The pairing here was a scrumptious dark chocolate loaded with crunchy salt flakes and cacao nibs. The rich smoke, earth, iodine salt whisky meshed beautifully with the big smoky peat. The brine air in the Peat Monster meshed with the mineral loaded pink salt flakes and rich dark cocoa to form a smoky salty rich chocolate caramel confection that hit my monkey bone - hard.
5) The finale was Orangerie Scotch Whisky (a whisky infused with orange zest, cassia, and clove) paired with Pacari Chilli-Spice bar. Compass Box's Orangerie reminds me of a drier Cointreau (actually very high praise in my book - Cointreau is one of the finest liqueurs). Pale gold in the glass with a nose full of rich blood orange, Orangerie keeps the spice hidden like a fan dancer. The heat of the cassia (cinnamon bark) emerges with the fade of the finish as a cryptic glow. The pairing here is darkest chocolate studded with chile pepper and coriander seeds. You can see where this pairing is going, rich bitter orange bitter chocolate sherbert with a wicked kick of heat at the finish in both capsicum and cinnamon dimensions. Another monster pairing.
Bottom line here - 4 out of 5 of these pairings were total winners in my book. Personally I wasn't expecting to enjoy the combination of any whisky with any food - but I had my horizons expanded - big time.
The event didn't quite end there. The full line of Compass Box whiskies were up at the bar and I enjoyed tasting Oak Cross Malt and The Spice Tree malt. These were my hands down favorites (except maybe the Peat Monster). I obtained samples so these will be the subjects of full reviews in the coming days. I feel privileged to have had a preview of this tasting. It was a great introduction to the concept and practice of whiskey-chocolate pairing. If you can make it come to the main event on March 27th. I'll be there.