The matching of whisky with food is certainly not a new idea (just ask anyone from one of the major whisky producing countries!) but the subject has been well covered recently in the various related blogs, websites and magazines that we follow. Many people have the perception that the two should or can only be enjoyed seperately, unlike other drinks such as wine. With an increasing amount of people writing about, cooking with and combining the flavours of food and whisky, we felt that it was necessary to try it for ourselves.
We were lucky enough to sample this experience when we were invited to The Cinnamon Club, which is located in central London close to Westminster Abbey. The Cinnamon Club offers contemporary cuisine that takes traditional Indian cooking techniques and ingredients and combines them with European inspired ideas and designs plus high quality local produce. The evening was hosted by Richard Paterson, the legendary Master Distiller from Whyte & Mackay and Vivek Singh, the Executive Chef of The Cinnamon Club restuarant. The event was being filmed for UK and Indian based television channels and was an introduction to the idea of matching two of India's great passions - food and whisky - for the upcoming religious festival of Diwali. We were even interviewed about our thoughts on the evening and this will broadcast as part of the show, so you may see us make our TV debut very soon!
Richard used the Whyte & Mackay blended whisky range during the event and Vivek had prepared a selection of small Indian street snacks, both savoury and sweet. They began by explaining the basics behind the idea of matching food and whisky from their points of view. Both agreed that the principle was to create harmony so that the food did not overpower the whisky and vice versa. The two elements should compliment each other with neither the food or the whisky burning your palate. Therefore, Vivek's food was not too spicy and Richard selected whiskies that had an alcohol strength of no higher than 45% ABV.
The savoury dishes that Vivek had prepared were tasted and matched first. Chicken tikka was paired with Whyte & Mackay 22 years old and the smoky, charred flavours that the chicken had picked up from the tandoor oven were complimented well by the sweet and spicy palate of the whisky. Then beetroot mini fritters and an onion salad were paired with the younger Whyte & Mackay 13 years old. The spicier nature of the two dishes were noted by Richard as being balanced by the delicate softness and sweetness present in the whisky.
The sweet dishes - ladoo (a sweet chickpea ball) and kulfi (a frozen reduced buffalo milk dessert covered in crushed pistachio nuts) - were combined with the Whyte & Mackay 30 years old blended whisky. This is the whisky that this week has won the Best Blended Whisky section at the prestigious International Spirits Challenge. The whisky has rich caramel, dried fruit (think of raisins and candied peel especially) and woody spice aromas that carry through on to the palate and combine with toffee and further spice (almost like cloves, but couldn't quite place it). The combination, especially with the delicious kulfi was great with the characteristics from the whisky bringing out the subtle grassy notes in the dessert.
The evening was an eye opening experience. As a result, we have decided that we will pursue and write about other genres of food being matched with whisky in the future. The combinations between the superb Whyte & Mackay whiskies presented by Richard Paterson and Vivek Singh's fantastic and tasty food worked very well. So, next time you are eating Indian food or other spicy food, why not try a whisky instead of beer or wine?