Salt and caramel. Fries and milkshake. Marmite and peanut butter (trust us) – also known as matches made in heaven, which is the name of our brand new series of food and drink pairings that are, put simply, heavenly. We’re kicking it off with Caol Ila and Maltesers, a secret which ex-Macallan whisky maker Sarah Burgess let us in on.

There’s something particularly satisfying about finding a great food and drink pairing, isn’t there? Wine seems like the obvious choice, but in this new series we’re trying to find the pairings that you didn’t know you needed. And to start, we’re spotlighting an incredible discovery from ex-Macallan whisky maker Sarah Burgess – Caol Ila and Maltesers. 

Sarah Burgess is an industry legend, not just because she agreed to sit and enthuse with us about whisky and chocolate on a Thursday morning, but because she boasts nearly 25 years of experience in the whisky industry. She previously worked at Diageo for two decades managing the Glenkinchie and Clynelish distilleries, before moving on to become lead whisky maker at Macallan. Earlier this year moved onto pastures new once again, joining forces with The Craigellachie Hotel to become creative director of The Craigellachie Collection, a series of spirits and sodas inspired by Speyside.

Caol Ila + Maltesers

It was during a trip up to Speyside that I first heard about this pairing around a dinner table, when, during the preview for the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival, fellow whisky folk were sharing their favourite chocolate and whisky pairings. So, why Maltesers and Caol Ila? “It’s easy, it’s accessible,” says Burgess. “You could talk about high-cocoa chocolate, but most people don’t have that in your house.”

Sarah Burgess Caol Ila Maltesers

The incredible Sarah Burgess!

But we must give credit to the original source of this, too. It was actually Kate Fleming, one of Diageo’s first distillery managers (now retired), that showed Burgess this delightful duo. When she was working over on Islay, Fleming discovered Caol Ila and Maltesers, “and 10 or 15 years ago she shared the secret with me, and I’ve shared the love with many people since.” It’s worth pointing out that Burgess never actually specifies which Caol Ila she reaches for, so go for whatever takes your fancy, or whatever you have in your drinks cupboard already – though if you’d like some guidance, we’re positive that the Caol Ila 12 Year Old is a great place to start.

While we trust Burgess wholeheartedly, we would never pass up the opportunity to do a taste test ourselves – so here’s what Team MoM thought. But don’t forget to try it out yourself and let us know what you think, too!

Caol Ila Maltesers whisky

Sam Smith‘s tasting review

As a leading scientist of alcohol and snack combinations (my lab coat is in the wash, but I guarantee you that it exists), I offered my expertise to help assess the legitimacy of the Caol Ila and Malteser coalescence hypothesis. 

First, I tried eating a Malteser before taking a sip of whisky, and almost instantly understood the hype. The creaminess of the chocolate coats your tongue, softening the intensity of the peaty, peppery Caol Ila, leaving you with just the salty smoke, making for a wonderful sweet/savoury balance. I then tried taking a sip of whisky followed by eating a Malteser, and it felt backwards after the deliciousness of the other way around. Earthiness shortly followed by sweetness doesn’t work as well in my opinion. It’s still tasty, sure, but the other way around is much better.

Finally, I tried a longshot. I put a handful of Maltesers in the glass, and poured whisky until it covered the Maltesers. This was inspired by bubble tea, with its little tapioca balls at the bottom. I wasn’t really sure what to expect if I’m honest, but the result wasn’t impressive at all. It didn’t seem to make much difference to the whisky, it’s not like the chocolate melted properly into it or anything. Once I had finished the whisky, I ate the Maltesers, but it didn’t permeate the chocolate shell in the way that you would want it to (I imagine that’s what I wanted to happen, at least). So in the end you’re just eating wet Maltesers, which isn’t too appealing. Best to stick to eating one and then taking a sip of Caol Ila.

Jess’ tasting review

Maltesers are my weakness, so this little taste experiment was like a dream come true. I went straight for a Malteser, and then while it was still a melted, gooey mess in my mouth, took a sip of Caol Ila. The two together almost turn into a high-end, boozy chocolate liqueur, with chocolate coating your tongue, the spiciness of the whisky firing up the sides of your tongue, and the super savoury smoke the lasting flavour, balancing out all the sweetness at the end. Hmm, I think I might go for another nibble/sip…