Poirier knew this, perhaps because he was familiar with the gustatory joys of bloody beef and tannic red wine – the exquisite combination that launched all this food and whisky pairing nonsense.
Wine is a quaffable refreshment. It helps clear your mouth while quenching your thirst. Whisky is too strongly flavoured and high in alcohol for that. A wine-sized shot of whisky inevitably prompts a wince.
Poirier loved his single malts, but knew they were too much for mealtime. So, Islay and oysters aside, he suggested that if you were determined to have them together, the whisky should be diluted to 20% ABV. But doesn’t this defeat the purpose of drinking Scotch? Perhaps, but doesn’t mixing it with food do the same? It sure doesn’t improve the flavour.
Then why are food and whisky pairings so fashionable these days? Well, promoters are always looking for new ways to fill seats.
If he or she can convince whisky lovers to suspend disbelief by ignoring their taste buds, they have access to a whole new clientele.
In exclusive clubs, ultra-cool hipster joints, war vets retirement homes and countless chain restaurants, I have led dozens of whisky dinners in the past couple of months. For some, the chefs spent hours developing recipes to complement the whisky. Others just served their general fare.
At the most successful event, the organiser asked if I would mind presenting the whiskies before they brought out the food.
“We’ve never had any success mixing the two,” he confided, “and whisky tastes better when you’re hungry anyway.” Clubs, of course, are as much about social connections as whisky.
What better way to draw people to a whisky tasting than promise them a spot of dinner too.
I was reminded of this recently when Reverend R. M. Peluso asked if I would read the manuscript of her new book Deep Tasting Chocolate & Whiskey. Maybe I would write a comment for the jacket? she wondered.
Among many spectacular brand-hosted whisky events during the years, one near disaster stands out: including chocolate used in the launch event of a new whisky.
With a bank of twitter-ready influencers primed and waiting, the brand’s flagship, multi-award-winning whisky, simply tanked in the presence of chocolate.
“Chocolate is a palate killer,” I wrote back to the Rev. But she persisted and I had a breakthrough. Whisky and chocolate together do not enhance the flavours of either. However, they can create an exciting new gustatory experience. However you don’t need good whisky to do this though, and you certainly don’t need some expensive artisanal chocolate.
I recalled a marvellous pairing from my youth – Christmas chocolates filled with Jack Daniel's. A little home experimentation soon revealed that milk chocolate and vodka are even more enjoyable together. It’s not the whisky that matters.
Alcohol alone delivers luscious chocolate flavours to greedy pleasure receptors creating a dazzling new experience that exceeds either alone.
When next I am on Islay, you can bet I’ll bow to the tourist cliché of raw oysters with Lagavulin. The whisky’s subtleties will disappear, as will the oysters’, yielding to a new experience that is about neither.
Sweet desserts with whisky? You bet, but no longer with expensive single malts. Almost any dram will add a dash of whisky flavour and the same goes for cooking with whisky.
Stick to the cheap stuff and save the fine drams for after dinner. As for whisky dinners? If it’s mealtime, sure, fill my gullet, but spare me the whisky expert or chef waxing on about pairings that we both know are forced.
I’ve been there; I’ve washed down rare beef with tannic red wine.