From grouse to oysters, resident Boisdale whisky expert Alwynne, goes in search of the best whisky food pairings for the Autumn.
One of the questions I’ve been asked, over years working in whisky has always been: “How should I drink my whisky?” I’m very much of the school of thought that you should drink your whisky how you like – and while I won’t necessarily recommend drowning an expensive dram in Coke – I won’t give you your marching orders. Neat, with ice, a splash of water or in a cocktail, whisky is an incredibly varied drink that can be enjoyed in many fashions.
For me, it comes down to mood, time of day, and season. I naturally drink less whisky neat in hotter summer months and will often opt for soda water to lengthen it out, much like the Japanese traditionally do. This summer it’s been a double of Girvan 4 Apps single grain most frequently hitting my glass. All poured over a tall glass of ice tipped with soda and freshened with a bit of mint and a grapefruit peel. Hakushu, with its light, delicate flavours is another top-notch one for this style of serve. And, as we move into the autumn months, I’ve no doubt that my preferences will change once more.
One thing I’m exploring more frequently is food and whisky matching – taking the whisky away from being just a pre or post-dinner drink and enjoying it throughout my meal. Whisky varies so much from region to region, country to country and in how it smells, tastes and feels on the palate. Most recently, I paired up the gorgeously seductive Ghosted Reserve 21 year old from William Grant’s alongside a grilled poussin, with a honey, elderflower and jasmine marinade. The fruitiness of the whisky was accentuated by the floral notes of the marinade, while the spicier, toffee notes from the grain component of the whisky paired beautifully with the delicate meatiness of the poussin. Delightful!
And so, looking to autumnal dishes, what would I suggest? With the grouse season now underway, I’d say look to whiskies (whether single malts or blends) that have a bit more body and potentially have spent some time in European oak ex-sherry casks or wine casks. Glenfiddich 15, with its notes of honey, cinnamon and ginger or Campbeltown’s Springbank 15, a raisiny, sherried whisky with a good amount of sweetness, would both do the trick.
Moving onto shellfish, look out for beautiful oysters this time of year. I’m a sucker for a whole plate of them. One of my fondest memories of oyster eating was at Boisdale five years ago with a dram of smoky, sweet Ailsa Bay as an accompaniment. A contrast to the saline, creaminess of the oysters, or if you prefer something lighter, perhaps try an Auchentoshan 12 year old?
As we move into cooler months, it signals the arrival of warm, comforting puddings to end a meal. One of my favourite whisky pairings is alongside sticky toffee pudding, preferably with caramel sauce and clotted cream ice cream for true indulgence. For a complementary taste, go for something like the Glenfarclas 15, matured in ex-sherry casks and with hints of dried spice, nuts and citrus peel. Or, give the Balvenie PortWood 21 a try, for a slightly lighter, more delicate companion to your taste buds.
If you decide to offer up whisky during your next dinner party, I always recommend trying a bit neat first and then having a bite of food. Follow that with another sip and see how both the whisky and the food change. The nice thing about adding in food alongside your whisky is that you can start with a fairly hefty, more alcoholic or phenolic whisky and not be afraid of moving onto something lighter for the next course since the food will help to cleanse your palate. As always with whisky, remember it’s a personal thing. It’s more about what you enjoy and there’s no harm in trying – in fact, it might just prove to be rather delicious!