Ditch the Hagus and Go Sweet
Many people still feel that the only pairing that should be attempted with dessert is wine. The idea of pairing your favorite scotch whisky with your favorite dessert is not only a novel idea, but seems like a difficult task. Where do you start? The fact is that the same concepts used to pair wine with dessert can be applied to scotch and dessert. As with wine, it is important to consider the time of day, season of the year, your mood, the situation, and the people you are with when considering the type and style of whiskey to drink. Like wine, whiskey is about occasion.
Whiskey and dessert pairings often come down to intuition of taste. Here are some of the golden rules utilized by whiskey-fanatic and executive chef Rob Bleifer and spirits sommelier Heather Greene of the Flatiron Room in NYC. “First, be aware of acidity and fats in your dessert,” recommends Greene. “Then, think about pairing like flavors to make flavors echo and pair complementing flavors to bring out the flavors.”
Spicy or cinnamon based desserts work especially well with Scotch that has mild peat. Fruit based desserts pair with a light, fruity whisky. Dark chocolate pairs well with almost any whisky. For bold, smoky, and peaty whiskies, try dark chocolate. The bitter flavors of dark chocolate bring out the sweetness of a smokier whiskey, and enhance the flavor.
Pie is great, especially with sweet, earthy flavors like pecan maple pie. Pair with an earthy scotch. The pecans give the nutty body, and the maple gives natural sweetness.
You can never go wrong eating chocolate with any style of scotch.
In order to become proficient at combining complementing flavors, choose your favorite whiskey and take note of the aromatics you derive from the bottle. Let’s use one of my favorites, Glenmorangie Nectar D’or. You will identify orange, honey, and some spice. What dessert tastes good with those flavors, but doesn’t necessarily contain those flavors? Ice cream? You could always add honey to your ice cream to achieve the complement.
At the Flatiron Room, Bleifer’s colleague chef Susan Burdian serves molten chocolate cake with vanilla custard for dessert. They recommend that dish with sherry-influenced single malt scotches like Macallan or Japanese whisky, which have dark-fruit notes like berries and figs.
Try one of these bottles with your next dessert –
The Yamazaki Single Whisky 12 Year Old – $65
Yamazaki is the first Japanese distillery established in 1923. This 12 year old from Yamazaki came onto the market in 1984 and was the first seriously marketed Japanese single malt whisky. The appearance is a faint orange hue that is very appealing.
Nose: Good body with plenty of nut oils and zest, pleasant floral character with fruit tones, a little tropical fruit, green banana, mango, honeydew, pear, and rooty spice followed by a thick layer of pink bubblegum.
Taste: Nicely viscous, medium body, and honeyed in style. A little bitter to start, then some banana and toffee and a slight suggestion of old oak appears. Smooth and soft with good sweetness, vanilla with apple fruit and jasmine freshness, but is made complex thanks to notes of candied orange peel, cinnamon and clove spice. A lovely citrus note develops with more tropical fruit notes and a little rum.
Finish: Medium with fruit and zest.
Pair with these desserts – Any fruit or fruity pies, berries, figs, banana cream pie, and rice pudding. Best with bananas foster.
The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak (Speyside Whisky) – $60
A sherry wood matured 12 year old from Macallan, a superbly balanced affair, one of the best of its age group.
Nose: Crisp and sweet. There are notes of sultanas (raisin used in foods such as puddings and cakes), and fresh apple blossom. There is a defined floral note with a beautiful sherry. Some hints of peach, almond, and golden raisins. A Calvados character emerges with a tropical fruit note and golden syrup.
Taste: Rich to medium-body and quite firm with big sherry and oak notes. There are elements of hot pastries and marmalade, sultanas and peels with a developing sweetness from the barley sugar and undertones of vanilla.
Finish: Long and evolving, turning fruity and raisin-y with a solid oaked note.
Pair with these desserts – pumpkin pie, custards, dark fruit, such as berries and figs, rice pudding, dark chocolate soufflé, caramel apple slices, and sliced fresh pears. Vanilla and caramel sauces pull forth the latent sherry, nutmeg, and spice aromas. Best with chocolate brownie and brioche bread pudding.
Brenne French Single Malt Whisky – $55
“Brenne” is a name from the French word, brin, meaning a blade of grass, or, in their case, barley. Brenne Single Malt Whisky is full of fruit-forward and complex-sugar notes.
Nose: Immediate apricot coming from the cognac finish with a hint of green apple which quickly relents to malted milk balls and softer notes of chocolate and cream.
Taste: Creamy mouth-feel with malted milk ball notes and shifted to a milk dud note as the caramel from the barrels come in later. Finally a taste evolves reminiscent of cream soda.
Finish: Continues with the caramel notes and into a lingering heat of alcohol with a balance of malted barley and a green raw chocolate note.
Pair with these desserts – chocolate and caramel dipped salted nut roll, dark chocolate caramels with sea salt, toasted oat and walnut trifle, orange and chocolate bread pudding, orange chocolate. Best with crème brulee.
Glenmorangie Nectar D’or 12 Year Old (Highland Whisky) – $70
Nectar D’Or is a reference to the golden nectar that was previously held in casks used to finish the whisky. This is a Sauternes-finished single malt and a fruity, vinous release from the Highland distillery. For sheer dessert pleasure, this is best I have tasted with desserts.
Nose: The character of dessert wines. Ripe fruit, floral, and herbaceous qualities, as well as a little fruitiness with barley sweetness.
Taste: Full with more dessert wine notes and clover honey, but with cereal notes and barley, a touch of malty spice and berry fruits with good oaky tannins and little herbal notes. It tastes like a dessert wine on fire. When developing, some spiciness, cinnamon or nutmeg and vanilla.
Finish: Medium-long with a good oaked note, noble rot, and cereal notes. A lingering hint of the spice vanilla chai emerges.
Pair with these desserts – honey drizzled ice cream, chocolate cake, almonds, bread pudding, custards, pumpkin pie, lemon meringue pie, white chocolate, apples and pears. Best with a pineapple sponge cake with a dollop of golden citrus honey.