Matching Whisky With Food Is An Essential Life Skill
You don't need to be a whisky expert to appreciate the nuanced experience that a great whisky-and-food pairing brings. Let us show you.
When I think of whisky, I rarely think of it as something to be paired with food. In my opinion, it’s a drink meant to be taken neat and sipped slowly to thoroughly savor flavors and the nuanced notes that make scotch an indulgence.
Personally, I think Highland Park is not a whisky for novice drinkers. When I was scotch noob, I thought the flavors diehard whisky drinkers weren’t for me. Smoke, spice, and peat were just too… funky. But as I moved along my whisk(e)y journey, I started to appreciate those unusual notes.
Highland Park is a gateway scotch for those who want who’d want to explore beyond the friendly, fruity and honeyed whisky to more complex drams. The brand has a devoted following in the whisky drinking community because of the unique peat notes derived from the heather that only grows in the Orkney Islands which they call home.
Highland Park Brand Advocate Adrian Tecson explains this in a way a foodie would understand it.
“You know how kids love sweet spaghetti. But when they grow older, they want the maasim one, but you still like the sweet one. Your growth into flavor, that’s part of your whisky journey.”
Taken neat, Highland Park’s whiskies’ peat and the smoke did grow on me through the years. Some bottles even ending up in the family collection to be saved for special occasions. I did think it was going to be an interesting challenge to pairing the complex notes with dishes.
I got a taste of this at a special whisky pairing dinner was held at Skye high above BGC featuring the Highland Park core expressions, the 10-year-old Viking Scars, the 12-year-old Viking Honour, and the newly launched permanent 15-year-old Viking Heart.
The evening started with cocktails concocted by Skye’s award-winning bar manager Poch Ancheta that had the Highland Park 10-Year-Old Viking Scars as the base spirit. The Winston’s Dram was a take on the Manhattan named after Winston Churchill who was known to love the drink. This did taste like a negroni with whisky, aperol and chynar bitters; and the Orkney Sour which was a refreshing mix of scotch, ginger, and orange juice.
Poch’s cocktails were partnered up with Skye’s bite sized appetizers of salpicao, shrimp, and croquettes. In a whisky dinner, passarounds are essential to make sure guests’ tummies aren’t empty for the whisky to come.
For the main courses, Chef Migs notes that the usual way to pair food with alcohol, as in wine, is to go for contrast so that the flavors stand out. In the case of this dinner, Chef Migs went another way which was to complement the wine with the whisky. The common theme with all the courses was the rich meaty bite that matched the Highland Park whiskies’ heathery smoky peat notes.
For the first course, the Chef got inspiration from the spice of taken from the Northern Spanish oak casks that were used to finish the 10-Year-Old Viking Scars. The result is a pintxo with Jamon Serrano and Manchego Cheese accentuated by Arugula Oil and chopped Arugula that went really well with the whisky’s hints of spiciness.
In the second course, Chef Migs continued to complement flavors but contrasted intensity. I thought the 12-Year-Old Viking Honour was more subtle than the previous dram of whisky with sweet notes of oranges and fruitcakes instead of spice. In turn, Chef Migs seared duck with cinnamon, cloves and ginger with an orange reduction with some pumpkin puree. Sips of scotch nicely cut the richness of the duck making this a great paring.
The star of the evening, the 15-Year-Old Viking Heart, had the sweet vanilla, smoke and peat characteristics of Highland Park. Swirling sips of this in between bites the Walnut Thyme Crusted Tenderloin on top of a Charred Pineapple Vanilla Sauced potato wedge. I thought the chef added the sweet notes to let the whisky’s long spicy finish shine. Taken together, the sweet and spicy made was a perfect bite for Chef Migs’ grand finale.
As we were savoring the last remaining bites of the last course, Adrian sauntered over and said that the 15-year-old’s name was inspired by the heart that’s in every Highland Park core series bottle. The limited-edition white ceramic bottle contains a permanent addition to the core series and would really stand out in anyone’s display cabinet.
Extra drams of Highland Park concluded a lovely evening of whisky, great company, and conversation. After all, who needs dessert when you’ve got more whisky?