A World of Whisky and Food Pairing at Macallans
We dined as a guest of Macallans
Typically when out on the town, I skew towards wine when ordering a drink, particularly when it comes to what I’ll pair with my dinner. I do however on occasion enjoy the sippability – as in a little goes a long way – of whisky. But I’ve never really thought of it as something you’d pair with food. Maybe after dinner, or before… but not with. That all changed recently at a food and wine pairing at Macallans Public House & Restaurant in downtown Brea.
Macallans Public House, now managed by the popular TAPS Fish House & Brewery, is a relatively new Irish bar and restaurant serving up gastro pub style food and an extensive offering of Scotch whisky and craft beer in its warm, cozy atmosphere. For folks preferring to enjoy a little of the outdoors there is a nice patio area in the front overlooking the downtown streets.
We sat in the bar area surrounded by exposed brick, a wall of windows behind us, and a rich dark wood bar and tables – sort of Irish pub meets converted factory loft – where Master of Whisky Ed “Dirt” Adams and Chef Roman Jiminez crafted and presented four unique pairings along with a little whisky education.
So what did we learn? Well, I won’t get all technical on you, but here are a couple of valuable tips for enjoying whisky. First tip? Whisky can feel like jet fuel going down, especially if you’re not used to it. Adams recommends holding the sip in your mouth for several seconds so the alcohol dissipates. You’ll actually enjoy the flavors in the whisky more as they linger on your tongue and it does smooth it out significantly. Second tip, and this one was one I would not have expected… adding a little water to it can actually enhance the flavors and your tasting experience. I’ve been berated before for wanting to add ice to my whisky in the past, so this one surprised me. But it held true.
With those two tips we were on our tasting journey. What did Chef Jimenez and Whisky Master Adams, have in store for us?
For our first course we were served a charred octopus salad with blistered tomatoes frisse, sweet corn puree, and tangerine vinaigrette paired with Dalwhinnie 15, a single malt Scotch from the Highland region. The 15 means it was aged for 15 years. Something else I learned.
The nose is described as, “Aromatic, toffee, fruit salad, lush nectarine, custard. Floral apple blossoms, honeysuckle. Apple peels, pear, touch of smoke.” And the palate, “Walnuts steeped in manuka honey with vanilla sponge. Gentle smoke weaves its way through the cereal with a touch of spice.” with a “long, malty, walnut, almond” finish. The tasters at my table came to the consensus that it had definite fruit notes. It was also the mildest of the four we were served.
Next up was a nod to summer with a grilled stone fruit flatbread with peaches, plum, cherries, ricotta, bleu cheese, and apricot and bone marrow paired with Oban “Little Bay”, a single malt Scotch also, from the Highland region.
The nose is described as, “Rich and vibrant malty nose with dried apple, dried plums, caramel, honey, allspice, and oak.” And the palate, “Very flavorful and expressive. Matching the nose quite well with toasted malt, green apple, dried apricot, salt, chocolate, and orange peel.” with a “lightly acidic and slight spicy” finish. Had I not tasted this one, I would have been perfectly happy with the Dalwhinnie 15, but this was one of my two favorites of the evening.
Our third course was a delicious take on the Canadian poutine with Schmaltz – a nice word for fat, fries, duck confit, quail egg, turkey gravy, blueberry ketchup, and duck skin crumble. This elevated, decadent “poutine” was a universal hit in our group and was paired with the lightly smoky, Talisker “Storm”, a single malt Scotch from the Isle of Sky region.
The nose is described as, “Initial brine, but not as abrupt as the 10 Year Old, quite creamy by comparison. Banana. Window putty, hint of sticking plasters and barbecues, citrus. White pepper develops towards the bottom of the glass.” I have no idea what window putty or sticking plasters smell like, but this is from the experts folks, so there you have it. The palate? A “Thick and mouth-coating with wood smoke, brine some time and chili heat too.” with a “red chili peppers and oak dryness with a hint of embers” finish. I’m a sucker for smoke and I really enjoyed this one. Choosing between the Oban “Little Bay” and the Talisker “Storm” would really depend on my mood and now that I’m slightly more educated in the world of whisky, I suppose what I am eating. This one stands up to the richness of duck confit poutine that’s certain.
And for our fourth course, an oyster with bacon and grilled tapenade, finished with blue cheese ice cream, was little but packed a punch. This smoky bite was paired with the very smoky Lagavulin 16, a single malt Scotch from the Islay region.
The nose on this is described as “one of the smokiest noses from Islay. It’s big, very very concentrated and redolent of iodine, sweet spices, good, mature sherry and creamy vanilla. Stunning.” And the palate, “Very thick and rich. A massive mouthful of malt and sherry with good fruity wetness, but also a wonderful sweetness. Big, powerful peat and oak.” with a “long, spicy finish, figs, dates, peat smoke, vanilla”. While I enjoyed this one with the smoky oyster, a little goes a long way for me and I preferred the Talisker “Storm” if I were just drinking it on its own.
So what else did I learn? I really enjoy Scotch and it’s as varied and complex as wines are. If you know what you’re doing, you can enhance a menu with the right selections! The next time you’re in the mood for a unique experience, try a dish with a whisky rather than a wine. Your bartender at Macallans will be happy to help guide you.