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Creating more malt occasions

Whisky makers have been matching malts and food with some surprising results

They are now asking people to explore some of these wonderful flavour combinations and discover more malt-drinking occasions. It makes good drinking as well as good commecial sense

In many cultures, it's an age-old custom to offer guests something to eat when serving wines or spirits. In Spain, Russia, and the nations of the Levant, small plates of tapas, mezes, whatever you call it, come to the table with the drinks. In fact, they probably invented "responsible drinking" centuries before the phrase caught on in the rest of the world. There, wine was and is the drink on the table for meals: drinking before or after meals called for other drinks, often spirits.

Recently, and in tribute to this civilised custom, whisky makers have been trying different combinations of whisky – mainly malts – with food. `

There's an obvious commercial driver, sometimes called "occasionality", combined with the current trend towards entertaining more at home. If you can get people to drink whisky with the right sort of snack before a meal, or with the cheese or the pudding at the end, then the bottle stays on the table longer. So you're extending the number of occasions when your brand comes to the table. Bars, too, can develop a profitable pairing between whisky and food, as is happening at the famous whisky bar at London’s Athenaeum Hotel.

But there's another reason, to do with encouraging people to explore the wide range of flavours delivered by single malts when paired with particular foods. If you are going to knock wine off its throne, even partially, some careful research is needed.

Among the whisky companies, Diageo has invested more in this than most, perhaps because it has so many different types of single malts to play with. The focus has been on food and malt whisky matches that can be easily tried in both on-premise and home entertaining in different markets.

Here are some examples:

Tapas with a Speyside malt
More traditional tapas-type food and whisky pairings include the archetypal Spanish Jamón ibérico served with the popular Speyside malt

Match: Whisky and Food



Chinese with a delicate Lowland maltWhisky makes a great pairing with food from Asia. Cantonese food, and indeed most Chinese food, is a good match for Scotch, provided it’s not too peaty. In fact, there’s a long tradition of drinking spirits at Chinese banquets.




Bar snacks

As celestial bar snacks, it’s hard to beat some of the the classic Chinese dishes with a glass of Scotch. For example: pork and prawn dumplings with The Singleton of Glen Ord, or spring rolls with Glenkinchie 12 year old, the delicate Lowland malt.





Cheese with a smoky Island malt

Cheese goes especially well with single malt whisky. Open-minded gourmets can soon be convinced that whisky is a better match for cheese than many wines.
One of the killer combinations Diageo has discovered is blue cheese with a smoky Island malt, such as Talisker from Skye or the very peaty Lagavulin from Islay.


Examples include France’s Roquefort cheese with the Lagavulin 16 year old (shown above) and Lagavulin Distillers Edition with Spain's pungent blue veined Picos de Europa (pictured above left).

Other excellent cheese and malt combinations include Talisker 10 year old with a strong Englsh Cheddar (pictured top left) and Talisker Distillers Edition with a Spanish Manchego (right).



Sweets with a frozen Highland malt

At that end of the meal, dessert wines have a rival in the shape of frozen Dalwhinnie. Emerging from 24 hours in the freezer in its frosted bottle, it will shock Scotch purists. But the smooth deep-chilled heathery sweetness of this Highland single malt is sensational with lemon tart, crème brûlée, iced bread and butter pudding with seasonal berries, lemon and vanilla ricotta tart, chocolate mousse and many other desserts.



1 June 2009 - Felicity Murray