When I tell people I run whisky and chocolate pairings, I get one of two responses – there is no middle ground.
The first response is a disturbed and/or quizzical look; invariably followed by ‘really?’.
The second is where people get it and their face lights up with interest. They may not understand how whisky and chocolate work together, but they recognize the common theme of taste, and at some level they understand magic happens when you pair beautiful flavours well.
But back to the first reaction. It doesn’t take the quizzical looking folk long to come around when you explain, it’s simply about playing with flavour. It’s a process of discovery of personal taste, and what goes with what … in the same way you match wine with cheese, discovering that fennel and orange work well together, or even why peanut butter and jelly (jam) is a classic for many.
But here’s the thing I love about running pairing events, some flavours not only work well together, but when paired, they heighten the experience of both tastes exceptionally.
Perhaps this is all best described by an example of a particular pairing from my whisky and cheese events (yes, I also run whisky and cheese pairings – it’s the new wine and cheese folks).
There is a particularly light, grassy cheese that comes from high in the Swiss Alps. On its own, it tastes wonderful and is exceptional quality – but it is delicately unassuming. Then pair it with a particular whisky and the same unassuming cheese explodes with flavour in your mouth; taking on a whole new alter ego – or superpower – of how it wants to express itself. That is the magical of pairing flavours well.
That’s the magic, but here’s where the fun lies…
Sure, I can blow your mind (and taste buds) by using a strong nutty flavoured chocolate to heighten dark cherry flavours of a whisky, for example – but the real fun is to play with taste, learn to experiment, trust our own judgement – and use this in everyday life, whether you’re at home with a bottle of wine, grabbing a coffee from your fav café, pairing fish with particular vegetables – or matching whisky and chocolate.
It just happens fine whisky and chocolate are both very particular, pure, taste driven products, and when paired well the marriage is special; and a hell of a lot of fun. Which is why our whisky and chocolate pairings are so popular as a corporate event – because they’re an experience – unique, memorable, fun and informative. And people love an experience.
Why do they pair well?
My first caveat in answering this question is to state we are talking quality – both of the chocolate and the whisky. If you have the cheapest blended whisky and sit down to pair it with a block of Cadbury Old Gold, I can guarantee you, it will not be a good pairing experience.
One of the reasons whisky and chocolate play so well together, is when you’re talking good quality, they share a strong focus on quality that comes from origin, source ingredients, simplicity of ingredients, processing (generally specific and minimally processed) – all of which when well executed, culminates into nuanced, unique flavour profiles.
Both carry distinct and strong flavor profiles. And by strong I don’t mean it has to be a punch in the face of flavour – i.e. a peaty whisky strong on smoke, or a really bitter chocolate. It is more likely to be a subtle floral and honey flavoured whisky, paired with a fresh grass flavoured chocolate. In fact, some of our best pairings are those with one of our sweetest chocolates, the caramel flavoured sensation of Valrhona Dulcey.
If all this sounds a little daunting check out our blog post on ‘learn to taste like a pro’ to get your head around how to use a flavor wheel to start to identify flavor profiles, but the best advice I can give is be open, trust your instinct and have some fun with it, whether you’re at one of our events, at home or your local bar.
But what if I don’t like whisky?
I must admit I’m a recent convert to whisky; it has only been discovering beautiful quality whisky and enjoying the nuance of flavour (I always thought whisky was that smack in the face of strong peat flavour) that has won me over.
I see many people go through the same process at our events, as they discover the taste of whisky is diverse, from light and honey flavoured, through to heavy peat. What is important is being open, in the same way it’s best not to approach chocolate with a ‘I only eat 70% chocolate attitude’ because you often don’t know what you don’t know if you haven’t been exposed to these boutique products before, you may not know what you like. I was that person – a long time ago with chocolate and more recently with whisky.
But full transparency - some are never convinced, but it is a rare to host someone at an event that isn’t open to the experience and doesn’t enjoy having the opportunity to give something new a go – even if they go home sure they still don’t like whisky.