It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 5: Laphroaig! Today’s we’re using words like TCP and phenolic as we take a look at one of Islay’s most uncompromising distilleries while Millie Milliken will take a look at matching different whiskies with food. 

Located in the south of Islay near Port Ellen, Laphroaig has been making heavily-peated whisky since 1815 when it was founded by Donald and Alexander Johnston. It’s now part of the Beam Suntory group and makes much of its divisive character. People who love Laphroaig, it has fans in high places such as Prince Charles, really love it, while some whisky drinkers can’t stand the stuff. 

Today, we’re taking a look at what’s going on at the distillery today, while Millie Milliken delves into the complicated matter of pairing peaty whiskies with food. They can surprisingly food friendly. As we can’t be there in person, we’ve posted a video we made in 2019 with distillery manager John Campbell. And you can listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the mood.

What’s going on today

You need to register on here to get the full rundown. There will be four events four events which include two sessions with distillery manager John Campbell, a food and drink masterclass and the unveiling of Laphroaig Cairdeas 2021. Events will take place at 2pm, 4pm, 6:15pm and 11:30pm all Islay time. 

Look for daily deals on Laphroaig on the Master of Malt site.  And now Millie Milliken takes a look at how to pair whisky with food – and even cook with it –  with advice from the experts, though not from anyone at Laphroaig as they didn’t get back to us in time. 

Laphroaig 10 Year Old goes brilliantly with seafood

Laphroaig 10 Year Old goes brilliantly with seafood

Whisky + food: How to pair and cook with whisky

Sweet, savoury; smoky, spicy: whisky comes with plenty of flavours to pair and cook food with. How do the pros do it? We headed into both the bar and the kitchen to find out

Have you heard of luging? No, not the Olympic sport, but in the world of food and drink, it means to use a previously food-filled vessel to consume alcohol. My most recent luging experience was at The Savoy’s pop-up Solas restaurant. In honour of the new art-deco style food offering from the hotel, Bowmore whisky rocked up and was being paired with oysters as a showcase starter.

We began by sipping oyster brine, then the whisky (Bowmore 12yo), we swallowed both, followed by the oyster and finally a rinse of the shell with more whisky. It was revelatory, with the whisky’s smoke, citrus and oily notes working wonders with the medley of Carlingford, Jersey and Maldon bivalve molluscs.

Whisky and food have a long-standing relationship, but where does one start? And with so many flavours to choose from, how do you pick out the ones that make all the difference?

Pairing principles

For Raffaele Di Monaco, bars manager at London’s The Berkley, pairing whisky and food comes with a few simple parameters. “Knowing the flavour profile of the whisky and its provenance is really important and will help you decide… and, of course, tasting is extremely important.”

From there, it’s a case of identifying which foods stand up to what styles of whisky. For example, Di Monaco thinks that peated whiskies can be both sweet and salty, so can be paired with savoury dishes as well as cheese. With drier styles, perhaps something more fatty and meaty. For Islay whiskies though, he thinks their versatility means they work best with seafood (oysters, langoustine, lobster) as well as mature cheeses or pear tarts – even, perhaps, banana bread (Di Monaco has made a banana cocktail with Laphroaig).

Specifically with Laphroaig, Di Monaco has had some great experiences: “I’ve been on Islay a couple of times and I’ve actually had a seafood platter with Laphroaig 10 Year Old, which is an amazing pairing. Its really balanced saltiness and sweetness goes really well with those delicate seafood flavours – it’s one of the best pairings I’ve ever had with Laphroaig.”

Roberta Hall from the Great British Menu

Roberta Hall cooks with whisky, but doesn’t drink it

Hot out the oven

Anyone who watched this year’s Great British Menu will remember two finalists who championed whisky in their competing dishes. One was Irishman Phelim O’Hagan whose main course featured a 100-day whiskey-aged côte de boeuf. The other, however, was Roberta Hall, owner of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh who made it to the final banquet with her fish dish. It was however, her dessert course (which she lost out on getting to the banquet by one point) that championed whisky, namely Arbeg 10 Year Old, in homage to the invention of penicillin: “The peatiness worked so well for that dessert,” she said of her choice.

Despite not drinking much whisky, as a Scottish chef, it does however pop up regularly in Hall’s kitchen. She mentions the obvious choices – “I’ve worked in lots of places where you have haggis with whisky sauce, and chocolate works fantastically with it – they really balance each other out” – but for Hall, barbecue food and whisky is starting to excite her.

BBQ time

“It’s something I‘m starting to see more of, for sure, as I’ve got a business now which does barbecue food. With Texan style in America, they use a lot of bourbon, so there are definitely whiskies out there that can provide the same flavours.” She suggests going down the glaze or sauce route, adding adding some sweetness to some whisky for a glaze before brushing some meat near the end of cooking and charring it at the end – “you could use a sweeter whisky, maybe something that’s used Caribbean casks.”

But the tried and tested method will, for Hall, always be desserts. She recalls a collaboration with a chef who made a warm chocolate mousse dessert and added a dash of neat Glenfarclas (which had been aged in Sauternes casks for eight years) on top. To be honest, I could make an Olympic sport out of eating that.