Whisky is a sipping drink, a thinking drink that with a splash of water complex aromas are released and draw you into its’ mystery and history. Meant to be enjoyed with friends and family laughing, reminiscing, and maybe getting a little too philosophical for a Saturday night. Much like wine, the flavors of a whisky are layered, subjective and can be complimented by food. But all too often we think of whisky solely as an after dinner drink, overlooking its’ potential to compliment food. For example whisky’s ability to be complimented by cheese.. or even chocolate, but we’ll save that discussion for another time! Not to compare whisky and wine too much but wine and cheese pairings are well known, maybe even a little overdone BUT the idea of whisky and cheese pairings now that is new, fresh… well perhaps as new as two classics can be.
You’re probably wondering what got me started on the idea of pairing whisky and cheese…
This past fall while visiting London, BFF K. took T. and I to The Whisky Bar at The Athenaeum Hotel. Fancy hotel in Mayfair, drinking whisky not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon if I do say so. Browsing the extensive whisky menu we were pleasantly surprised to find they offered whisky and cheese pairings created by a cheese expert and chief barman. This revelation was a brilliant one! I was actually a little dumbfounded about why I hadn’t thought about this before. I love cheese and I love whisky, so obviously these two loves should get together.
While I enjoyed a lovely dram (or two) at The Whisky Bar K. settled on trying one of the whisky and cheese pairings. After some debate she choose the pairing of a blue cheese and Balvenie Doublewood.
The description from their menu reads…
Blue Monday & Balvenie Doublewood 12yr old
Blue Monday from Tain, near Inverness, is creamy and makes the perfect foil for the gently spicy Speyside Malt Balvenie Doublewood. Connecting the two together gives them an electrifying lift, pulling out hidden harmonics from within their depths. Notes and flavours include: Spicy orange, toffee, honey and liquorice.
As I said this was a revelation. Personally I am not a fan of blue cheese, but when paired with the whisky both the flavors of the whisky and the cheese were enhanced and complimentary. I had to wonder if whisky could make me enjoy blue cheese, what other amazing combinations were out there waiting to be enjoyed…
Since this experience in London I’ve been researching and reading about pairing cheese and whisky. Of course I have had the arduous task of tasting whisky and cheese combinations to better understand the flavor profiles and to identify my favorite pairings. I should specify that I am no cheese expert… a cheese eating expert maybe, but I do hope you enjoy these pairings as much as I do. And the next evening you invite friends and family over, perhaps push the wine bottle aside and pair some of your favorite whiskies with a selection of cheeses for a lovely evening.
Old Pultney 12 yr old & Mimolette
Old Pultney 12 yr old is a whisky of contradictions. Light but substantial, salty but sweet, simple but elegant. This whisky will transplant you to the Scottish coast with one sip. Mimolette is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. The nutty, buttery flavor of the cheese has a hint of saltiness that compliments the whisky nicely.
Auchentoshan 3 Wood & Comte
Auchentoshan 3 Wood is matured initially in bourbon casks before being finished in Oloroso then Pedro Ximénez casks for layers of rich, sweet fruitiness. This whisky has big sherry notes with a creamy finish. Comte is a semi-hard, unpasteurized cow’s milk. The savoury, almost smokey flavor of this cheese balances the sweetness from the whisky.
Highland Park 18 yr old & Golden Smoked Rebel
Smoke with smoke is the recommended pairing matching cheese and whisky. So when it came to pairing the Highland Park 18 yr old I choose a German smoked cheese to compliment this gorgeous whisky. Highland Park 18 yr old has all the classic flavors of Orcadian whiskies – smoked peat, heather, and honey. A refined and balanced whisky with a soft, long finish. Golden Smoked Rebel Cheese, also called Räucherrebell in German, is a semi-hard cheese smoked over beechwood fire, which imparts it a hearty, smoky flavouring quite unlike any other cheese. Though the outside yellowish-brown rind gives the appearance of having been smoked, the taste is still pleasantly mild.
Glenlivet 18 yr old & Pepper d’Affinois
Glenlivet 18 yr old is a smooth, sherried whisky with a balanced sweetness and rich texture. With rich flavors of honey, vanilla and orange, this whisky will actually pair well with a variety of food and cheeses. My personal favorite was with pepper d’Affinois. Pepper d’Affinois is a triple-cream French cheese, similar to brie but has a creamier texture. The orange flavor and sweetness within the whisky is nicely complimented by the pepper and spicy nature of the cheese.
While I believe you should enjoy the whisky and cheese as you like, if you would like some direction on the tasting I would recommend to start by tasting the whisky alone. Then enjoy a bite of your selected cheese. Once you’ve tasted the cheese, take another sip of whisky to discover if the cheese has enhanced the flavor of the whisky. When it does it is a magical combination!
And if you are not a whisky drinker and would like to develop an appreciation for the ‘water of life’ I will share with you the advice our whisky loving Priest shared with T. during one of our pre-marriage counselling sessions…
You must sit down one evening and have four glasses of whisky. You will either wake up in the morning a whisky lover or it will never be for you.
Needless to say it worked, T. was converted and hasn’t looked back since!
With that I will leave you with one of my favorite whisky quotes from James Joyce that for me captures the beauty of the drink…
The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.