Since I have been scarcely old enough to consume alcoholic beverages, I have had an interest in Scotch Whisky. At the age of 21 as I tried to figure out what in the “spirits” category appealed to me, I kept feeling drawn, again and again, to Scotch. At first I just ordered whatever was affordable, but gradually I became more interested in pricier blends, and upon arriving in Columbia, MO to finish my B.A., I was introduced to the multifaceted world of single malts. I’ve never looked back. Now I have enough familiarity with the whisky-making process, various distilleries, and their geographical locations and styles, that I don’t feel completely lost, but at the same time, I realize that there is a great deal left for me to learn, and so I persevere–let me tell you, it’s a tough life.
At any rate, perhaps because I still have so much to learn, it only recently began to occur to me that fine chocolate and single-malt Scotch whisky have so many qualities that they share. True, this is not the first time that I have said that chocolate is analogous to Scotch in its complexity of flavor, but I have also said the same about chocolate and wine, beer, or even cheese. So let me take the opportunity to clarify that the similarity that I have now come to see between chocolate and Scotch is much more than just noting a certain level of shared complexity. In truth, I sometimes feel as though I’m tasting a distilled single-origin chocolate when enjoying a dram of a favorite single-malt.
Here are just a few reasons why this might be:
1) Texture and Body: Scotch has body and texture supported by various compounds, some of which, if they were encountered in wine, would be referred to as “tannins.” Among other compounds, these tannins often give Scotch a particularly pleasant body and mouthfeel. Whisky writers may describe various characteristics as thick, creamy, viscous, light, medium or full, syrupy, firm, rounded, smooth, silky, oily, and even chewy. Length is also relevant when speaking of Scotch and can be impacted by such compounds. In all cases, I am reminded of fine chocolate.
Texture is one of the things that, as a chocolate maker, concerns me most. I am not generally partial to thin, fatty, or waxy chocolates, nor those that are overly refined with a sticky mouthfeel or coarsely refined and rough to the tongue. Rather, I prefer a fine texture, with a full, almost thick, mouthfeel, which I believe adds to length of the tasting experience, and impacts flavor in a positive way. I would certainly use creamy, viscous and even chewy as descriptors. Of course, some of these characteristics of chocolate are, in part, due to cocoa butter content, presence or absence of emulsifiers, and refinement/conching of the chocolate, but as with whisky, tannic polyphenols in chocolate also play a substantial role in this mouthfeel, and the length of the chocolate-tasting experience.
2) Aroma: Scotch often has, amongst other aromatic compounds, plentiful fruity esters due to initial fermentation, skillful distillation, and common cask aging in Sherry or other wine/spirit barrels, that may lend a bright, sweet, floral, honeyed and fruity mouthwatering quality to the beverage just as careful fermentation adds such qualities to a fine cacao-based chocolate. There are other aromatic profiles that may be shared by Scotch whisky and chocolate as well, including herbal, spicy, nutty, buttery, coffee-like, caramel and vanilla notes amongst others, but interestingly and more to the point, Scotch can even be found to have a clear chocolate note present in its flavor. A brief scan through the late Michael Jackson’s (no not that one) Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch shows more than a handful of references to chocolate, including descriptors such as: chocolate, black chocolate, chocolaty, spicy chocolate, chocolate cream, chocolate powder, bitter chocolate, light chocolate orange, and chocolate digestives amongst others. One difference, however, is that some Scotch whiskies, also contain simple compounds, called phenols without the “poly-” prefix, that are aromatic, smokey and medicinal in nature. These compounds are due to the smoke from peat fires, that are used to dry/flavor the malted barley in the kiln. In any case, when it comes to chocolate, smoke flavor, caused by simple phenols, has historically been seen as a defect. Still, despite any differences, Scotch and chocolate have a lot to share when it comes to aroma.
3) Taste (i.e. sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, etc.): As with most foods of more than just slight complexity, Scotch whisky can have any number of possible combinations of sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and even saltiness. Chocolate, of course, is often classified in terms of its bitterness to sweetness quotient: Bitter/unsweetened, Bittersweet, semisweet, sweet, etc., but chocolate also has an often overlooked acid component, though it can be far more obvious in some single-origin chocolates than others. Additionally, though it seems to have mostly fallen out of favor in dark chocolate, chocolate companies often used to add very small quantities of salt to help round out and balance the flavor. Still, balance is a subjective quality, and as with chocolate, where a mouthwatering tartness, overarching sweetness or rather more dry bitterness may be preferred in different amounts by the chocolate maker and chocolate connoisseur, single-malt Scotch whisky may also come across as anything from a sweet honeyed elixir to a drying, spicy, even medicinal and peppery concoction, and lets not forget the salty, seaweed-tinged single malts that exist. The beauty of both single-origin chocolate and single-malt Scotch, in this regard, is in the diversity and complexity of combinations available, to which there is essentially no end.
All of this has caused me to wonder if my preference for Scotch above all other spirits is based upon the same part of my palate that is drawn to chocolate above many other foods. Complexity, sure. But as you can see, there is more, much more that is shared in flavor and texture. Let’s put this hypothesis to good use with a couple of pairings.
Here are a couple of my personal favorite single-malt Scotch whiskies that go very well with Patric Chocolate. I have made an effort to choose two bottles that are true bargains, as they are most amazing whiskies, yet come in at prices between $40 and $60. Both whiskies have been paired with Patric Chocolate’s 67% Madagascar.
First a clearly complementary pairing:
Longmorn 15-year is a full-bodied whisky with clear aromas of apples and citrus that follow through to the palate. When combined with the fruity citrus qualities of the 67% the pairing really shines as the whisky helps elevate the prevalent fruits rouges of the bar, most notably the cherry, which fills the mouth and nose, and for its part, the chocolate highlights the otherwise light nuttiness and more noticeable spice of the Longmorn. This whisky and chocolate seem to meld together perfectly and effortlessly like two old friends.
Next a pairing with substantial contrast:
Talisker 10-year is a huge whisky with real island character–smoke coming through immediately in the nose and palate–brightened by only a touch of sweet fruit in the aroma, which is only slightly more noticeable on the tongue. While the Longmorn and 67% may go together like two old friends, the Talisker has a slightly more difficult relationship with the same chocolate. However, after careful attention, it becomes clear that Talikser’s smokey character is supported by the subtle roasted edge and mild bitterness of the chocolate, as the chocolate’s roasted quality seems to grow by the second. Furthermore, the fruit of the Talisker, which heretofore was more of a slight hint, expands in the mouth and nose, becoming far more encompassing. Best of friends, perhaps not, but the Talisker and 67% are like two sides of the same coin, each with its own important role to play as equal parts of the whole.
Eat chocolate; Enjoy Life!