Whisky Pairings, not what you’d expect
Instead of coming with a Blog this post reviewing a Whisky, I thought it might be interesting to talk about Whisky and it’s perhaps more atmospheric implications. I believe, and I’m sure many out there reading this (if there are many of you) that there is always a place and a time for a Whisky. For example, if you’re having some friends over for a nice Diner and you want to offer them a Whisky after diner but you know they’re not big Malt heads, you’re not going to break out the expensive Lagavulin or Macallan. You’ll perhaps going to break out that trusty bottle of Glenlivet, a standby, something that gets good results, makes your guest feel appreciated. Say you’re celebrating that milestone Birthday, yes time to bust out the older stuff, the bottle you’ve been only stealing the odd sip out of. Let’s say you get home on a Friday after a long and stressful work week, perhaps nothing burns away all those hours at the office better then a nice glass of Single Malt.
You get the point, a time and a place. And yes folks, it’s always time for a Whisky (as long as it’s past noon…) Some Whiskies are best for cold nights, some are good on the patio with ice, some for sitting around the campfire or the fireplace. It’s a mood thing, it’s an attitude thing and the experience is what’s key here. Much like the entire concept of ‘going for a beer with the guys’ is a vibe, a dram is a vibe, and it requires a certain level of attention.
As an avid drinker of Whiskies from all nations, I don’t always feel like a Whisky, sometimes I’d rather a beer, sometimes wine, sometimes a Rum so on and so forth. For me, it’s that word again… Vibe and this is so important to the experience in my mind. If you’ve not got the right Vibe you’re just not going to enjoy your drink nearly as much as you ought to, and perhaps you’re not going to enjoy it at all. The thing that complicates matters is that when you’re drinking premium spirits, you’re pouring money into that glass, and we all know in today’s market, Whisky is not cheap! Even classic Blends like Teachers or Jonnie Walkers are creeping up to start and rival some Single-malts and once affordable bottles of Bourbon and Rye continue to climb in price. I mean today when you see a bottle of a great Rye like Lot 40 for near 50$ I think to myself ‘that’s a great whisky for under $50 what a steal’ and meanwhile 5 years ago a bottle of Balvenie 12yo was $60 (and now it’s over $90). This is an expensive hobby, and while we can all lament the prices of the good old days we still must pay the Piper and which brings me to a point… we have to make the extra effort today, now more then ever to cherish those quiet moments either alone or with those whom we keep our company and get the most out of it.
Time is important when it comes to Whisky; it’s the ultimate pairing. Rushing a Whisky to me is a great crime. I never pour a glass if I don’t have at least a good solid 30mins minimum. In many instances, with a really great Whisky I will take a good long while with it, an hour in some cases. Especially when I know that I have that time to really just sip and enjoy it. Those evenings when work was productive, but not on your mind any more, the floors are swept, dishes done, Dog walked and you’re not expecting anyone to pop by or call you up to say Hi. Maybe you have some family over or friends who came by for a glass of Wine (or whatever) and you can really just take your time.
Evenings without distraction, they are rare but they are the perfect pairing for a glass of Whisky, regardless of if it’s ‘the good stuff’ that you’ve tucked away or a standby. Getting the most out of it, maybe a good book or article. Perhaps surfing blogs or YouTube channels or whatnot.
Inviting people over for Whisky is always challenging because, well it’s expensive. Organization of a Whisky Club can be tricky and not something that I’ve really thought much about, at least to the point of trying to put forth any effort. I think that with the Internet the way it is now, Google hangouts and Skype or face time really offer us the opportunity to connect with like-minded folk about any interest. I think you could very easily invest some time in creating some hangouts. In fact, a few weeks ago while visiting one of my long time, in fact childhood friends he asked ‘why don’t we all get together in a hang-out once a week and just have a drink and chat, catch up’ I had no response other than, ‘ that’s the best fucking idea I’ve heard in months’. Not that we’ve organised it yet, but it’s going to happen.
The people aspect of Whisky is something that cannot be overlooked… even if that means the lack of people. I’m the sort of person that greatly values my personal time, away from my Family and friends (not to say I don’t love those people) and often with that I will pour a glass and reflect. I tend to prefer company but after a really long day, yeah closing the door to the world is a pretty powerful de-stressor. Another big one to consider is Music.
As a Musician, the pairing of a glass of Whisky with the right Music really creates that Vibe again. While most people would perhaps think that since I’m a Musician there’s always Music being played in my home, you would in fact be wrong. Most Musicians that I know listen to a lot of music, absolutely. However, it’s difficult as a Musician to have music playing as background, which is how most ‘civilians’ listen to music. The terminology that I like to use with those who study with me is the difference between active and passive listening. Everyone listens passively to Music, it’s impossible to avoid. If you go into a restaurant they will more then likely have Music playing over a cheap sound system, generic adult contemporary satellite radio being a fairly good example. The music is unobtrusive, indistinct and it’s what we’ve gotten used to in terms of Passive music. YouTubers will have theme music or a Radio station may have jingles playing in the background of their adverts, none of this music is intended in any way shape or form engage you other then triggering something if it’s used in an advertisement. Active listening is the process of trying to absorb music as art, for enjoyment and enrichment. It’s the process by which people who are learning music, or about music actually gain some of the most important information.
Pairing Whisky with Music is challenging. This is due to the fact that both can be rather demanding of your attention. The advice I have to give is to match intensities. Shoot for middle ground. If you have a challenging Whisky, don’t overmatch it with the Music. This goes both ways. Perhaps you have big ears and can listen to Debussy String Quartets and match that with a medium complexity Dram. Say you have a strong Pallet and can coast through a familiar Whisky while listening to something complicated. I think the key is that if you’re opening a Whisky for the first time, don’t go with new music. Go with something you know already and enjoy. You’ll have a better experience. Likewise, when I get a new Album to listen to (which seems to happen more often then Whisky these days) then I pull out a standby or something I know that won’t be a big brute or complex Whisky, I don’t want to overwhelm the experience. Whisky tends to go with Classical music, Blues and Jazz really well in terms of Vibe, at least for me. Perhaps that is cliché, but hey, sometimes we have cliché for a reason right?
Of course, people talk a lot about pairing Whisky with Food. This isn’t something that I myself really am into. I will have Whisky after a meal, more as a desert then an actual Desert. Some Whiskies go excellently with decent quality dark chocolates. I find that most classic pairings people talk about, for example strong cheeses or Oysters for me are a waste of both. Of course you’re welcome to enjoy it no judgement here. You can use Whisky as a flavour enhancer in many foods though. I do cook with Whiskies, my wife baked me an Irish Whiskey cake on st Paddy’s a few years ago and it was great. I use Bourbon or Blended Scotch (slightly smokey ones) in my BBQ mop, or my Pulled Pork sauce etc. Alcohol is much like Salt, it brings out other flavours in a dish. However, often a Whisky is so strongly flavoured that it can be disruptive when paired with foods that cannot match the body of the whisky
Cigars are another great pairing. My advice for Cigars is to match the body of the Cigar with the body of the Whisky. I don’t subscribe to the idea that if you’re having a Tobacco product (Pipe and Cigar both pair well with a Scotch or Bourbon) that you must pair that with a Smokey Whisky (an Islay for example). I feel that if you do that often times you just smoke yourself out and the two cancel. A light Whisky with a light bodied or slightly medium works great.
Lastly, seasons are very important. Having a glass of Talisker in August perhaps is not a great plan. Having a Talisker in November, great idea! I tend to not drink a lot of Scotch between June and September. These days the weather is starting to cool off, the leaves are just starting to hint at oranges and yellows as the season is turning. When I was a boy right now we’d be pretty solidly in Autumn and right now some aspects of Summer are hanging on for dear life. The single malts are coming out again, the Cabinet is reorganized and the lighter whiskies have been cycled to the back. These days are days for Sherry bombs, mildly peated Scotches, more robust Bourbons and Ryes. The Irish and Canadian Whiskies will not really be touched for a good while now. Those lighter styles do not carry that big impact that you’re looking for when the weather is getting harsh. Granted, I tend to keep some aperitif styles available for desert drams but right now I’m going to be cycling through some Aberlour, Highland Park (actually I need to go buy some). Upcoming I’ll be doing a review of a Balblair I picked up which I think is just fantastic, a lighter highland single malt which will probably then find it’s way to the back until April when it will probably fit the Spring vibe a little better.
I suppose in closing, the real point of this is that if you’re enjoying a glass, make sure you pick the right place, the right time, the right people and the right Vibe for what you’re drinking. It might sound obvious but there have been times in the past where I’ve poured a glass of something thinking, “I know this is great stuff, why am I not enjoying this?” The answer is, you didn’t pick the right vibe.
My goal is to try and get a Blog out at least once a week in the first half of the week. I know that someone probably would tell me in order to have a successful blog you have to blog consistently, the same day of the week, released at the same time much like a television show in the 90’s. Well, I don’t get any money for this and in fact, this costs me money (ha ha hahaha) and it’s a hobby. However, I know how important hobbies are, especially one that does not require any help from anyone else, thus I can rely on my own time management skills (which are above average if I must say). Not every post will be a review, I find that’s getting cliché and so I’ll be making more posts like this one.
Ultimately, if you like my Blogs, please feel free (no, I encourage you) to share or retweet this hot mess of Whisky stuffs.
Fret now, I’ll still be doing straight up reviews, and as a teaser for anyone who actually looks forward to these (I know there’s a couple).
Coming soon to CWL… in no particular order
Te Bheag Blended Scotch Whisky
Balblair 1999 Vintage Single malt Scotch
Redbreast 12yo Irish Whiskey
Stock and Barrel Single malt Canadian Whisky (CRTC demands 10% Canadian content right?)
Talisker 10 Year Old Single malt Scotch (a re-review from my old Blog)
Additionally, in the next while, I will be starting an alternate Blog dealing with the life of an Artist/Musician. It’s challenging, trust me. If you’re interested in what I really do with my time, you should go visit my actual real webpage that I pay for with real money that I actually earn (that I don’t spend on Whisk(e)y).
All the Best