Is this a tortilla chip I see before me?

Is this a tortilla chip I see before me?

Brian Hennigan reports groundbreaking research into one of the vital questions of life

Food | 04 Aug 1999 | Issue 5 | By Brian Hennigan

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Finding the right person to share the rest of your life with can be incredibly difficult, especially if you're married. For whisky the issue of partnership is no less trying. This is not the old 'water - with or without' chestnut. No, the issue here is one of accompaniment - which snack is the appropriate companion on that blissful whisky stumble towards the twilight? Snacks have long been a matter for consideration. Whisky aficionados will be familiar with the fifteenth-century lines much cited as the first historical description of Scotch whisky production: 'eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae'. But how many are familiar with the next line: 'nae forgetting a visit to Spar forwith to obtain some Phileas Fogg Pastrami Bagel Chips.'

If whisky is about silent contemplation, then snacks add crunchy reflection. As the fiery gaze of dusk joins the loch's tranquil aura, with the circling eagle on high, the delicate munch of a Hula-Hoop, washed with an Islay mist, can bring a tear to the eye - particularly if you're lying behind the couch at the time.

Under the old Potato Fundamentalist regimes, flavours were generally limited to Cheese and Onion, Salt & Vinegar, and Tomato. (Ready Salted is not a real flavour, any more than is water). Yet recent work has confirmed that the flavour universe is constantly expanding, in line with the Big Bag Theory. This doesn't explain why so many of life's greatest tastes - such as Last Night's Pizza or Top of The Milk - have failed to find room on the shelves. At the same time, too much is made of flavour. The real issue is shape. Snacks divide fairly comfortably into the symmetrical and the asymmetrical. Avoid at all costs the asymmetrical. With a protractor, some Sellotape and a good Biro it should take you no more than three hours to sift these out. Research shows that symmetrical definition is needed to act as a diving board for the whisky molecules to spring from. Unbalanced, the mouth can soon find itself awash with all manner of sensory anarchy. The police or coastguard may be required. But what of the crisps themselves?

The Real McCoy's are men's crisps; battle-hardened, thick wafers of potato which could probably be used to construct pontoon bridges. Importantly, they are grooved. Thus one can be placed on the edge of the palate and the whisky trickled back. The particular frisson created when this is done with a meaty Talisker or the like is enough to have many ripping off their vests in appreciation. Including my mother. Snacks, you see, have hidden powers. This is evident with Mini-Cheddars, dainty discs which pack a full-on cheese punch that requires a firm no-nonsense malt riposte. But for absolute whisky delivery, few experiences can match that of The Eternal Vortex. Hula-Hoops are to whisky what jet engines are to flying. Placing an upright Hula-Hoop in the centre of the mouth before admitting an appropriate measure - Lagavulin has about the right verve - creates a whirlpool of sublimely seductive spiciness. With judicious use of the tongue it is possible to create a Wall of Death sensation, as the spirit races from cheek to cheek. Please note that there is a time and a place for such activity and a day at the golf club with your boss is not it.

Particular care should be taken with a revolutionary design called Big Os, which are very much the Mother of All Hula-Hoops. Combination with some peaty Lowland malts has resulted in cases of fatal self-inhalation. A similar effect can be found with Skips, promoted as 'fizzibly melty' which, in combination with a smooth Speysider like Glenfarclas, have been known to bring many an aged crofter to foaming ruination on the hillside.

Ultimately the choice of crisp is as individual as the choice of whisky. Trying out every available variety will cost about the same as a bottle of decent malt. At the same time, it is necessary to consider every conceivable permutation of whisky and snack, so get down to the shops now, before the Millennium rush.
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