The marriage of whisky and chocolate is a delicate task, and the wrong picks run the risk of marring the flavour. So how do you know which chocolates to choose? Iain Burnett, lauded chocolatier and ganache specialist of gourmet chocolate company Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier, explains.
I know the notes of the wide range of chocolates that I use, and I’m aware of the flavour notes in my chocolates. When you get a whisky and look at the flavour notes from the master distiller or the noser you may recognise a citrus route, or a peaty smoky route perhaps, so there are key notes from that info, but let’s say as an example that a whisky might have a “hint of grass”. You might actually find when you taste the whisky, what the “grass” really refers to is a herby note and you’re like “wow, this could go well with rose or lemongrass”, or the grass is just too subtle; it’s either non-existent or they might be referring not to actual grass but the fact that it’s fresh.
Depending on the terminology it might not be literal; it might be a reference or an emotion. Certain things you’ll pair can get to the point where even something referring to, say, a raspberry note more accurately refers to warm raspberry flavouring or the tang of a natural raspberry. I had a recent experience where someone thought a particular whisky would work with my Raspberry & Black Pepper Velvet Truffle but it really clashed because the crushed raspberries we use are sharp and tangy, and what the whisky had was very round, warm sweet fruit notes, as opposed to a tangy, acidic red fruit. An Orange and Clove Velvet Truffle was the answer!
When it comes to how you know what works – if something is particularly peaty let’s say – this can pair with a much stronger chocolate; some whiskies are very delicate, very gentle and quite complex actually. If they’re very complex I tend to put them with a chocolate with fewer ingredients, because when using gourmet couverture (chocolate coatings) and fresh cream from a single herd there is a subtle complexity. It’s not just creamy – it’s grassy, it’s sweet, with vanilla notes and so on. So the cream is fairly complicated, and with a certain couverture, for example a rare São Tomé cocoa, its complexity can imbue the chocolate with intense cocoa, red fruit, peppery and ginger notes, so I might pair it with a more delicate whisky in that instance.
If you’ve got a delicate and complex whisky you want to show just how much it is by putting it next to an equally delicate and complex chocolate as opposed to a one hit wonder, which is the opposite of a lot of the peaty ones, where you are thinking that they are so powerful, so salty, that you might want to put them with a salted caramel, a lemongrass Velvet Praline or maybe even a cinnamon praline, you know? Because this is going to make a feast out of it, that strong, warm cinnamon note will play with the smoke and the peat, and it’s going to have the correct balance of strength.