Again, the internet doth provide. I saw a post on Judith Lewis’s Mostly About Chocolate blog the other day that Macallan were doing a whisky and chocolate tasting, and that she had some tickets to give away. I’ve been to quite a few whisky tastings in my time but as yet I’ve managed to avoid (undeliberately) any food pairings and have been keeping an eye out for one that I could do. Naturally, I entered the competition and was quite surprised to be rewarded not only with one ticket but also a few more to give away to some friends, courtesy of Macallan’s twittering PR folk. I roped in my partner for this year’s NomNomNom, Melanie, work buddy Darren and one of his mates, and off to Ladbroke Grove we did trot.
On arrival we were presented with a Cocoa Pulp Bellini, part of Artisan’s Chocolateria cocktail menu, a glass with cocoa pulp topped up with prosecco. The pulp was fruity with hints of lychee, peach and fizzy apple, which worked well to create a light, fruity bellini. I’ve noticed Artisan du Chocolat popping up a lot on Twitter, being in with the London foodies as they are and also an active participant in the world of online interaction, but have yet to make it over to one of their shops. They’ve been selling chocolates in London for a while, starting out in Borough Market about 10 years ago (back in the days when it wasn’t quite so well known and there was a lot more fighting for every customer who walked past) and expanding their business to now include a few shops and a concession in Selfridges on Oxford Street. Gerry Coleman, founder and chocolatier, and his team have been making their own chocolate, rather than buying it in, to make their various tasty things since 2007 and are one of the only posh chocolate shops to do so. Basically, I was impressed and may have hung around a bit at the end of the night, interrupting the staff’s well deserved pizza, talking at Gerry and realising that I now have to add chocolate onto my list of things to learn about.
Macallan I’ve generally not been so keen on. While I was quite impressed by their regular 10 year old whisky when I visited the distillery, I wasn’t quite so fond of the 12 year old version and the 12 year fine oak that I bought miniatures of. However, from their style (mainly sherried Speyside) they should fit happily into my likes, so I’ve always thought it must be some kind of snobbery rather than the fault of the whisky. One of their current marketing pushes is to find masters in other industries, to match up with their own Master of Wood and Master of Spirit. So far they’ve released a Masters of Photography bottlins, with accompanying photographic exhibition, and have done a few events matching up Macallan with other masters, and this tasting was part of that idea – combining the Masters of Wood and Spirit with the Masters of Chocolate.
The plan was simple – Gerry and his team had tasted a selection of Macallans, chosen a matching chocolate bar (or two) from their range, and they would present us with both whisky and chocolate to see what we thought. Leading the whisky side was Maxxium UK’s Toby Shellard along with Annabel Kohler from the Edrington Group (the owners of Macallan), and the whiskies chosen were not a regular vertical tasting.
The first whisky we tried was the Macallan 15 year old Fine Oak, a mixture of Macallan whiskies matured in european sherry, american bourbon and american sherry oak barrels. On the nose there was linseed oil, apple and pear, a hint of salt and some almost banana-like sweetness. To taste the first thing I noticed was a big woodiness, which was tempered by some vanilla and pear flavours as well as lightly toasted bread. Water brought out some smokiness (from the wood rather than any peat) as well as more oil, orchard fruit and a floral note that was hidden behind the wood beforehand. I much preferred this to the 12 year I’d tried before, but it was still a little woody for my liking.
The chocolate selected for this whisky was a single origin Jamaican 72% cocoa dark chocolate, a dark tasting chocolate with overtones of tobacco as well as a floralness. Gerry also pulled out a flavour I was having trouble describing – olives. When pairing the whisky and chocolate I tried it both chocolate first and whisky first and was surprised by the difference. Tasting the chocolate first the oil and wood of the whisky were emphasised, combining with the tobacco and olive flavours of the chocolate. The other way around the floral notes of the whisky combined with the tobacco of the chocolate to bring out a sweet coffee flavour that wasn’t present when tasting the chocolate first.
They had also selected a second backup match for this one, a milk chocolate with lemongrass and ginger. Tasting the whisky first didn’t really give anything new here (leading me to focus on tasting the chocolate first from then on), but tasting the chocolate first coated the mouth and filled a hole in the middle of the whisky, that I hadn’t noticed before, with the gingery citrus sweetness. Very different to the last match but equally good, splitting the room.
The next whisky was the Macallan 12, one that I have talked about before, matured in oloroso casks. To help see what the whisky had got from the wood each table was presented with a glass of dark oloroso to nose – it was fantastically raisiny, like a sweet wine concentrate but without the thickness of PX. On the nose the whisky has the regular oiliness, dried fruit and cereal (that I described before as being like Garibaldi biscuits) and some spicy caramelised orange. To taste it had rounded sherry woodiness (with dried fruit, hints of wine and all the norm) as well as candy floss, tobacco wood and some vanilla – all combining to make something like a dark chocolate Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Water knocked out a lot of the lighter flavours, boosting the vanilla sweetness and the wood and not really helping much. I enjoyed it much more than previously, maybe more than the 10 year old that I was comparing it to last time.
To match it the team had chosen their Mole Chili bar – a tobaccoey chocolate with a long chilli savouriness running throughout the flavour. It was made with more than just chilli peppers, with the 4 types of chilli accompanied by a variety of other mole ingredients including ground tortilla and thyme. I don’t like chilli chocolate usually, but this one was really very nice. With the whisky the leafy tobacco combined with the citrus to provide a background for the richness of the whisky, all wrapped up with a chilli zing. A very good match that enhanced the flavours of both whisky and chocolate.
We then moved onto the more difficult to obtain whiskies, firstly the Macallan Select Oak. Available in the travel retail market (ie. duty free shops) it’s part of the 1824 collection, a range named after the year of the distillery’s founding and all released without age statement. On the nose it’s got the regular oiliness as well as malt toffee, vanilla wood, and a touch of saltiness and flowers. To taste it’s got linseed, a hint of pear, creamy vanilla, a little bit of hazelnut and a spicy gingery finish. Gerry described it as being like vanilla ice cream cones.
The chocolate for this one was the Artisan Almond Milk Bar, made using almond milk rather than that from cows, and thus vegan friendly. It was very almondy, having a taste that invoked a sensation of grainy almond powder, despite the chocolate being smooth – it was almost like eating unsweetened marzipan mixed with chocolate, which is on the way to what it is. When paired with the whisky it enhanced the light nuttiness and creaminess, turning into a chocolate-whisky combination that was big and flavourful.
There was a second choice chocolate, the Tonka Bar. The tonka bean has a chunk of vanilla as well as the taste of cherry stones which came through quite clearly in the chocolate. Adding cherries to the already slightly nutty, woody whisky brought out a cherry bakewell flavour that was nice, but not as coherent as the Almond bar.
The last paired whisky of the night was the Macallan Whisky Makers Edition, the next in the 1824 collection and bottled a little stronger at 42.8% – the ABV that Macallan’s whisky king, Bob Dalgarno, thinks is the perfect strength for Macallan bottlings. On the nose it has oil, apricots and a hint of raisin, and to taste it has orange juice concentrate, more oiliness and a underlying earthiness. The finish is lightly woody and long, but not particularly intense. This was more delicate than the previous drams and didn’t go down all that well with a room of fading palates, but it struck me as one that definitely needed another go when my tastebuds were a bit fresher.
The chocolate paired with it was their Tobacco Bar, sold with an awareness of the public backlash against the evil leaf – while smoking may kill (says the ex-smoker who sometimes misses cigarettes), tobacco in its unsmoked form can add an interesting leafy, earthy flavour to a variety of food and drink. The chocolate was leathery with liquorice and leafy tobacco, thanks to the two different types of tobacco they use make it – one to bring smokiness and one to bring the leafiness. When tasted with the chocolate the whisky felt more complete, with fruity and smoky tastes mixing in with the oil and citrus to create a well rounded, complex chocolate and whisky combination.
This also had a second choice, the Black Cardamon bar. On its own the chocolate had a strong spicy cardamon feel with a touch of wet wood, but when mixed with the whisky the orange and spice dominated, emphasising the Christmassy middle of the spirit.
Having finished our run of whiskies our next treat was unveiled – Artisan du Chocolat had been experimenting with making whisky truffles based on the various expressions we’d tasted. When they were first made they’d been described as too strong but when we tasted them, two weeks later, much of the whisky flavour had dissipated, leaving vaguely alcoholic truffles. The whiskies were mixed with white chocolate and then combined with various coatings:
- Macallan 12 – Single origin jamaican chocolate ganache
- Macallan 15 – Orange blossom and orchid ganache
- Select Oak – Milk chocolate ganache
They were all very nice but the whisky flavours had faded, leaving only hints of what could have been.
I was quite lucky at the end of the evening, as while speaking to Annabel about how I was surprised that I didn’t like the Macallan whiskies more she recommended that I try the Macallan 18 if I got a chance, as she thought it might fit in with my tastes. Unfortunately she didn’t have a bottle, but Toby overheard, nipped out to his car and brought in one he happened to have knocking around. The cork broke on the way out of the bottle, but a corkscrew was found and I got a taste. On the nose there was loads of raisiny fruit, a savoury leatheriness and the distinctive Macallan oiliness. To taste it had dark chocolate, tannic wood, light fruit without much sweetness and a spicy lingering finish. With water a lot of the sweetness was initially knocked out, although it returned as it matured in the glass, and the wood came on a bit strong. More towards my tastes, but again the wood stood in the way a little bit.
This was a try out event, followed by one for paying customers the next night, and as yet they don’t have any more scheduled. However, after speaking to Gerry for a while I suspect that we might see more of these type of events coming out of Artisan du Chocolat in the future, and I’m tempted to come back for more.
Macallan 15 Year Old Fine Oak
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 43%. ~£40
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 40%. ~£30
Macallan Select Oak
No age statement. Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 40%. ~£50
Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition
No age statement. Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 42.8%, ~£75
The last two are meant to be exclusively for travel retail, but I found some on the Whisky Exchange website.