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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Blended Whisky

5 tips for pairing whisky with food

Whisky has long been overlooked as a food beverage, but Ghillie Başan is on a mission to change that with her latest cookbook, Spirit & Spice. Here, the Cordon Bleu-trained…

Whisky has long been overlooked as a food beverage, but Ghillie Başan is on a mission to change that with her latest cookbook, Spirit & Spice. Here, the Cordon Bleu-trained chef shares five tips for pairing Scottish single malts and blends with your favourite meals…

Typically, when you encounter whisky with food it’s either within a dish – added to a sauce, for instance, or in a pudding – or as part of a distillery tasting, which “tends to be a very easy style of pairing,” Ghillie Başan observes. “People go, ‘there are nutty flavours in there, so we’ll put a walnut out’ – it isn’t really about the depth of flavour and how you can enhance it so that the food and whisky are working together”.

There’s also the M factor. Marketing. Historically, whisky was positioned as an after-dinner drink, she adds, and for a very long time a drink solely for men. “It’s quite a recent thing, this idea of whisky being a drink of conviviality, a drink to enjoy your meal or put into cocktails, a drink for both men and women and a drink to market to young people.”

Ghillie Başan

Ghillie Başan!

Still, the concept of drinking a dram with food remains a little bit ‘out there’ for whisky purists. So what makes the spirit a worthy mealtime pairing? As well as its flavour pairing potential, whisky is exceptionally robust – which means its a great match for dishes from North and West Africa, the Middle East, India, South-east Asia and the Caribbean, where spice is used in abundance.

“Think about when you have a glass of red wine,” says Başan, “it fills your mouth with a kind of full-bodiedness and fruitiness that looking for. But the minute you have spicy food with that, it’s killed, and you’re left with something that ends up a bit more watery in your mouth, all of that full-bodiedness is gone, all of the fruit flavours have gone, because it’s a much more fragile product, it hasn’t had the same type of treatment that whisky’s had.”

In Spirit & Spice (Kitchen Press, £25), Başan unites exotic flavours from around the world with liquid from her own backyard in the Highlands of Scotland. The end goal is to prepare a dish that “does something very similar in your mouth to the whisky, so the two of them are enhancing one another and you end up with this incredible experience within your mouth,” Başan explains. “You’ve got all these flavours either contrasting or complementing one another – it’s a little journey you go on.”

gravadlax

Gravadlax + whisky = delicious

5 tips for pairing whisky with food
  1. Get to know your dram

You can’t match the dish without a flavour reference, so pour yourself a finger and get acquainted. The first step is to nose and taste to identify the key aromas, tastes and textures in the glass. Jot your musings down on paper so you can reference them later – the more detailed, the better.

  1. Consider the key whisky regions

You don’t have to start from scratch each time, suggests Başan – use regional similarities to your advantage. “One could say that there is in Speyside whiskies a general sense of fruitiness and toasted notes, perhaps burnt sugar and honey in some of these whiskies depending on the distillery and maturation,” she says. “You can compare that to something like Islay whiskies, which again are all different but often have a smokiness and saltiness running through – so there are a few things that you can generalise about.”

  1. Highlight background flavours

Don’t just plum for the obvious flavours. Sure, you might think about pairing an Islay dram with something smoked – aubergine, perhaps, or halibut – but by highlighting background flavours you could elevate both the dish and the dram. For example a smoky whisky might also have a hint of pineapple in it, Başan points out. You could combine that with the smoky element of the dish, or take the ingredient in a different direction entirely. The bottom line? Use whisky’s more subtle notes to complement and contrast.

  1. Experiment with cooking techniques

Smoking, curing, pickling, infusing, caramelising, conserving, smoking, barbequing, marinating and fermenting are just some of the ways you can take a specific ingredients and transform the flavour into something unique. Don’t be shy about playing with spices, too, whether roasting, grinding or creating a paste.

  1. Don’t forget texture

You always appreciate food more if it has texture, Başan explains. Take the humble smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. “Made with ordinary bread, it’s all soft and ends up cloying in your mouth, so you don’t get a real sense of appreciation,” she says. Add texture – switch the bread for toasted thin focaccia, or add a few slices of cucumber to give it a crunch – and you’ll enjoy it far more. The same applies to your dram. Is the whisky creamy or silky? Or is it perhaps watery or chewy? Bear that in mind when designing your dish.

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Whisky innovation – how far is too far?

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks back at how whisky has evolved throughout its history, examines some of today’s more outlandish innovations, and asks whether it’s wise or even…

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks back at how whisky has evolved throughout its history, examines some of today’s more outlandish innovations, and asks whether it’s wise or even possible to try to control experimentation in the category. 

A long, long time ago – when I last had a proper job, since you ask, and thus a very long time ago – my then-MD warned me in portentous and grave tones that too much innovation would confuse the consumer and encourage promiscuous buying behaviour at the expense of brand loyalty.

‘Pompous git’, I thought, and went right ahead with what proved to be Scotland’s first branded, cask strength, single cask release – a blatant crib from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, of course, but carrying a distillery name (oh alright, it was Glenmorangie) instead of an anonymous number.  The late Michael Jackson loved it and devoted his entire column in The Independent to explaining the concept and singing its praises, a source of considerable pride, then and to this day. Shortly after I left the company (a long story) and shortly after that the product was discontinued. Moral: don’t disagree with your MD!

But, unremarkable as that whisky would be today, it was a definite innovation and one which aroused a certain amount of controversy at the time.  Actually, innovation in whisky has generally attracted some controversy, perhaps because people really care deeply about the drams they drink.

The advent of blending from the late 1860s onwards didn’t go down well with the then-dominant Irish whiskey industry. The passionate opposition of the leading Dublin distillers to ‘sham whisky’ and ‘silent spirit’ (that’s grain whisky to you and me) proved to be a major nail in their collective coffin, albeit one that they hammered in very firmly all by themselves. Leading Scotch blenders such as Walker, Buchanan, Dewar’s and others gleefully seized this opportunity.

Charred oak spindles

What fresh madness is this?

Malting technology has evolved considerably over the past hundred years and as for barley varieties, well, that’s an arms race.  For much of the nineteenth century, Chevallier was utterly dominant, but displaced by Plumage Archer which, in turn, was toppled by Proctor and Maris Otter, only for these varieties to be replaced by Golden Promise. This was once widely used: The Macallan famously going so far as to describe it as one of the ‘Six Pillars’ of its brand, a claim which has since been quietly dropped (marketing messages have an even shorter lifespan than barley varieties). But today it’s long gone and the merry-go-round continues.

It’s all about money, of course. Poor old Chevallier produced around 300 litres of pure alcohol per ton of dry malt, where today the accountants, sorry ‘distillers’, are looking for 450 litres or more.  Unless you’re Bruichladdich, of course, or Mark Reynier at Waterford, where the pursuit of terroir is what counts above all.

Or a ‘craft’ distiller in the USA.  Leaving aside the vexed topic of what constitutes ‘craft’, there are now, I was mildly astonished to learn, approaching 2,000 small-scale distilleries in the USA., Unconstrained by the Scotch Whisky Regulations, innovation is absolutely the name of the game among our colonial cousins – for how else is a nascent distiller to stand out in such a congested and competitive market?

The rise of flavoured whiskies from major brands – think Jack Daniel’s Honey and its many imitators – opened the floodgates and small distillers have followed suit, embracing unusual grains, varying production methods and every kind of cask finish you can dream up (and some you’d rather not).  Finishing, incidentally, is generally acknowledged as beginning, in a conscious and deliberate sense, with the 1982 launch of The Balvenie Classic. But little did Balvenie’s mild-mannered David Stewart MBE imagine what mischief popping some whisky into a sherry cask would unleash.

Ever since then, the sorcerer’s apprentices have been busy.  The US craft distillers are taking their smoked whiskeys, whiskeys made with heritage corn, wheat, millet, oats or triticale (a rye-wheat hybrid which, full confession, I’d never heard of either) and putting them in brand new wood of every possible variety of oak, barrels made from old pieces of chestnut furniture, beer-aged casks, any former wine barrel known to man and, apparently, even a Japanese fruit liqueur cask.

Virginia-Highland whisky

Virginia-Highland whisky, the kind of thing that gives the SWA sleepless nights

And then I learned that the Virginia Distillery Co. imports single malt Scotch to blend with its own American single malt, and age the result in a cold brew coffee-soaked cask.

Oh, please! That’s enough!  Innovation stops right here! Or am I now the pompous git?  What say you? How far should (not can) innovation go?

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

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Scotch bolsters UK economy by £5.5bn

We all know Scotch is delicious – but did you know it’s also thoroughly good for the UK economy? The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has crunched the numbers, and discovered…

We all know Scotch is delicious – but did you know it’s also thoroughly good for the UK economy? The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has crunched the numbers, and discovered that it now adds a whopping £5.5 billion pounds each year!

The amount the Scotch industry adds has climbed by 10% year-on-year, as exports reach record highs (£4.7bn in 2018) and new distilleries come online. We reckon that’s as good a reason as any to raise a dram.

“This research shows the Scotch whisky industry’s huge contribution to both the Scottish and UK economies,” said Karen Betts, the SWA’s chief exec. She also praised the “consistent investment” from whisky companies, with over £500 million going into production, distribution, marketing and tourism in the last five years.

Scotch whisky

Scotch whisky, delicious, convivial and good for the economy

“Despite the challenges of Brexit, this investment continues to flow, with further projects planned and more distilleries set to open – a sign that the Scotch whisky industry remains confident about the future,” she continued.  This is great news for our many employees, our investors, our supply chain and, of course, for consumers all over the world who love Scotch.”

What does this mean for Scotch? According to the SWA, the industry contributes more than the life sciences sector does to Scotland’s finances (£1.5bn), meaning it is a vital part of the economy. It also supports more than 42,000 jobs throughout the UK, including 10,500 people directly in Scotland, and 7,000 across rural communities.

Scotch is a super-productive business to be in, too. Apparently, the sector generates about £210,505 GVA per employee, more than the energy sector at £173,511 per person. In comparison, life sciences contributes £93,735 per head, while the creative industries stands at £60,712 per person.

Some more fun stats (we know you like them): for every £100 of added value Scotch produces, another £45 is generated in the broader economy. Plus, Scotch accounted for an enormous 21% of all UK food and drink exports in 2018, and 1.3% of the value of total exports.

Hurrah for Scotch!

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Visiting the Reopened Jameson Distillery Bow St. in Dublin

Jameson has reopened its Bow St. brand home in Dublin – formerly known as The Old Jameson Distillery – following an €11m redevelopment. We sent Jake over to Ireland for…

Jameson has reopened its Bow St. brand home in Dublin – formerly known as The Old Jameson Distillery – following an €11m redevelopment. We sent Jake over to Ireland for the lowdown on the new multi-sensory experience and masterclasses.
 
First covered here on the blog during our interview with Irish Distillers Master Blender Billy Leighton a month ago, Jameson’s Bow St. brand home in Smithfield, Dublin has recently reopened following an ambitious €11m redevelopment. Now fully up and running, I paid them a visit last week.
 
Located on the site of John Jameson’s original 1780 Irish whisky distillery, a Jameson visitor centre in Dublin was first opened back in 1997. By the summer of 2016 a significant refurb was required to bring the experience up to date and handle greater numbers of visitors (over-subscription and delays had become a real problem, by their own admission), but what they’ve achieved since September is pretty damn impressive.

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Roe & Co Irish Whiskey and an interview with Brand Ambassador Peter O’Connor

The launch of new Irish whiskey Roe & Co also sees Diageo return to Irish whiskey and the George Roe name return to bottles, plus there’s a new distillery in…

The launch of new Irish whiskey Roe & Co also sees Diageo return to Irish whiskey and the George Roe name return to bottles, plus there’s a new distillery in the works! We spoke to Roe & Co brand ambassador Peter O’Connor to get the full lowdown.
 
There are at least four stories in one here so let’s take a quick look at each before we get a bit more detail in our interview with brand ambassador Peter O’Connor. The new release Roe & Co Irish whiskey – available now – is a blend of single malt and grain Irish whiskeys matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks, with a high proportion of those being first-fill. Priced at around the £30 mark it’s bottled at 45% abv, non-chill filtered and aimed at the ‘premium’ market with cocktails very much in mind (as we’ll hear from Peter shortly). Diageo, of course, owned Bushmills for years from 2005 onwards but agreed to sell it to Casa Cuevo towards the end of 2014, which has meant they haven’t had a stake in Irish whiskey – the fastest growing spirits category in the world – for the last couple of years.

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That Boutique-y Whisky Company Adds Age Statements

That Boutique-y Whisky Company has announced that they’re introducing age statements to all future releases with immediate effect and, right on cue, they have a raft of new and exciting…

That Boutique-y Whisky Company

That Boutique-y Whisky Company has announced that they’re introducing age statements to all future releases with immediate effect and, right on cue, they have a raft of new and exciting releases on the way!

All the new releases are listed below and are also available to buy or pre-order from Master of Malt now.

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World Whiskies Awards and World Drinks Awards Winners

Yesterday saw the World’s Best whiskies and spirits crowned at the World Drinks Awards, including the World Whiskies Awards. Before we get into the results though, some good news! Drinks…

World Drinks Awards World Whiskies Awards 2016

Yesterday saw the World’s Best whiskies and spirits crowned at the World Drinks Awards, including the World Whiskies Awards.

Before we get into the results though, some good news! Drinks by the Dram have once again teamed up with the World Drinks Awards to create an easy way to taste a whole bunch of these award winners! Head over to our World Drinks Awards 2016 page to browse their selection of 8 different World Whiskies Awards and World Drinks Awards Winners Tasting Sets.

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Whisky Advent Day 22: Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

Just three days until Christmas and, including today’s, just three drams left in The Whisky Advent Calendar. Slightly bittersweet perhaps, with Christmas being completely awesome but having to say goodbye…

Whisky Advent Calendar

Just three days until Christmas and, including today’s, just three drams left in The Whisky Advent Calendar. Slightly bittersweet perhaps, with Christmas being completely awesome but having to say goodbye to a new whisky every day… Fortunately Drinks by the Dram have thought of that, and have a range of dram-filled Christmas Crackers too!

For now some fine drams remain, however, with another Irish whiskey to enjoy behind window 22 courtesy of those Teeling boys. First their family gave us the independent Cooley distillery (producing the excellent Connemara Peated single malt and Greenore single grain, for example), purchased by Beam in 2011, and now in 2015 they’ve opened the first whisky distillery in Dublin for 125 years!

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Whisky Advent Day 19: The Lost Distilleries Blend

We’ll be honest with you, we didn’t think anything Drinks by the Dram’s The Whisky Advent Calendar could throw at us would be more exciting than the release of a new…

Whisky Advent Calendar

We’ll be honest with you, we didn’t think anything Drinks by the Dram’s The Whisky Advent Calendar could throw at us would be more exciting than the release of a new Star Wars movie. (Even with the endless adverts beforehand “make sure you have the official Star Wars mascara” etc.) Not until the final window, perhaps. Wrong, we were, however, as day 19 has provided The Lost Distilleries Blend from The Blended Whisky Company!

Named World’s Best Blended Whisky at Whisky Magazine’s World Whiskies Awards in 2014, it does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a blend of whiskies exclusively from sadly now closed distilleries, many of whom have become legendary such as Port Ellen and Caperdonich. There’s even some Imperial entanglements in there… Yes, the force is strong with this one.

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Whisky Advent Day 3: Compass Box Great King St Artist’s Blend

Day 3 already? Time flies when you’re having #WhiskyAdvent fun! (Although it’s definitely not too late to catch up if you don’t yet have a Drinks by the Dram advent calendar…)…

Compass Box Great King Street Whisky Advent

Day 3 already? Time flies when you’re having #WhiskyAdvent fun! (Although it’s definitely not too late to catch up if you don’t yet have a Drinks by the Dram advent calendar…)

In The Whisky Advent Calendar today is a treat from one of our favourite independent bottlers and blenders, whisky zealot John Glaser’s truly excellent Compass Box.

The Great King Street Artist’s Blend takes its name from the address of Compass Box’s Edinburgh offices and, like all their whiskies, is bottled with neither chill-filtration nor artificial colouring. Priding themselves on transparency, we can tell you that this small batch blend always contains around 50% malt whisky (a very high percentage for a blend) In fact, we can tell you that it’s made up of 46% first fill American oak matured Lowland grain whisky, 28% ‘fruity and malty’ Northern Highland single malt, 17% ‘grassy’ Northern Highland single malt, and 9% ‘meaty’ Speyside single malt! (66% of the blend is matured in first fill American oak overall and 8% in first fill Sherry butts with 28% finished in new French oak casks).

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