By Jason Johnstone-Yellin, GuidScotchDrink.com
Pairing wine with food is a commonplace. Pairing whisky with food is a little more exciting. Done well, it can elevate an everyday foodstuff to new, unforeseen heights, and give one a new perspective on a favorite whisky. And so it was that I found myself in Moscow, Idaho last Friday evening emceeing a whisky dinner to raise funds for the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation.
The host of the dinner, Jim Heidelberger, invites fourteen of his closest whisky friends to partake in this now annual whisky dinner. He supplies the whisky and the hors d’oeuvres while one guest brings an appetizer, another the main, and yet another the dessert. There’s a strong community feeling at these dinners and strangers (if there is such a thing in Moscow) quickly become friends.
Here are some highlights of the evening (from six courses enjoyed with seven whiskies):
I paired a wonderfully strong, blue veined Stilton with an equally powerful Caol Ila bottling from 2007 that’s only available at the distillery on Islay. This was pungency squared! The cask strength Caol Ila and all its chipotle smoke brought out the rich creaminess of the cheese, while the Stilton’s blue mold brought out the earthiness of the Caol Ila. Each of them brought something unique to the pairing and, like a good marriage, elevated the partnership.
While I was a little worried I might have blown out everyone’s tastebuds after such a monstrous opening my concerns were quickly assuaged once the appetizer was served. Lovina Roselle prepared a polenta cracker on which rested Gouda, caramelized onions and roasted pears, all drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I paired this with Talisker Distiller’s Edition, a ten year old Talisker finished in Amoroso sherry butts. The onions, pears, and sherry component married beautifully creating a depth of flavor that was sublime. The peppery Talisker and the creamy Gouda complimented one another perfectly. For some in attendance, this was the pairing of the night.
The main course was a lamb biryani that the chef, Sandra (Sandy) Russell, learned to make in India. I paired it with GlenDronach 12 year old hoping that the spices in each would dance in an embrace rather than fight mercilessly. All reports suggest that the cloves in each provided the dancing beat. I took care to avoid pairing a high alcohol dram with a potentially spicy main course. At that point the alcohol overwhelms the palate and one would be better off drinking milk rather than whisky!
One of our two desserts was a white chocolate cheesecake prepared by Cindee Carlson. Upon hearing white chocolate my mind immediately went to Ardbeg Uigeadail: a high octane, sweet, peaty treat from the Islay distillery. As I’d hoped, the Ardbeg cut right through the heavy, rich cheesecake while leaving a sweet, pleasantly smoky finish on the palate – another crowd pleaser that really wowed some of the guests.
Sincere thanks to Jim for flying me in to emcee and to the guests whose good humor and willingness to experiment made for a memorable beginning to 2012.
About Jason Johnstone-Yellin: Guid Scotch Drink
Born and raised in Burns country (Ayrshire, Scotland), I have lived in the US since December 2001 (currently residing on the top of a cliff overlooking the Puget Sound in the beautiful Pacific Northwest).
After being co-President of the Aberdeen University Whisky Society in 1999 and 2000 I found that I missed having access to a number of formidable whiskies after I moved to the US. I also missed the honest conversation that comes from sharing a dram with a friend. After some due diligence I founded the Single Malt Whisky Society of the Palouse in 2004. Being President of my own society has allowed me to share my love of single malt with friends who were/are interested in learning more about the hallowed spirit. We're now approaching the half way stage of year eight and have just tasted our 200th whisky together (Lagavulin Distillery Only 2010 bottling).
I've been blogging about whisky since 2009 and started the Guid Scotch Drink blog in April of 2010. I've been recognized by Whisky For Everyone, Connosr, and Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011 & 2012 editions as a worthwhile whisky blog. I'll lift a dram to that!
I regularly lead whisky tastings, plan and run whisky dinners, and have led private whisky tours of Scotland since 2009. I'm also the co-founder and Vice-President of the Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society. Watch this space for more information on that side of things.