Out of the ordinary

Martine Nouet meets the woman with designs on boutique chocolates
By Martine Nouet
Chocolate and whisky pairings have become quite popular these last years. They seem the more approachable initiation to that dual enjoyment.

Sue Wood is one of those chocaholics. A passion which has lead her to create the Islay Chocolate Company. Yet, she does not belong to the gourmet cook world. She is an artist and when she ‘cooked’, it was in a kiln to create fused glass objects.

Of course fusion could be the link here! “I started making chocolates in 2008, Sue explains. “My friend Sally brought me wonderful truffles once. They were so scrumptious that I thought I had to learn and make them myself”.

The whole thing really started as a sideline to the art gallery. But it quickly took off and now the kiln stays cool.

As a creator, artisan chocolate maker Sue is always experimenting with new recipes for her handmade chocolates. Living on Islay, she was naturally approached by distilleries. She started a successful partnership with Bowmore last year, creating a chocolate to match Bowmore Darkest. She used an Equadorean single estate dark chocolate. Followed this year by a dark chocolate dipped orange to accompany the launching of Bowmore Tempest in Europe. Recently, she and I were asked to create pairings for the Auchentoshan range, to be unveiled at the distillery festival.

Sue has also worked with Whyte and Mackay for Isle of Jura. This is quite an unexpected route for an English girl having come all the way from the Scilly Islands to Islay. But a thrilling experience; “I just love it”, she exclaims in a smile.

The Islay Chocolate Company is in Islay Square in Bridgend, close to the Islay Ales brewery. Be prepared or an out of an ordinary experience when you visit it! Or visit

Auchentoshan Classic

Vanilla is the key note, with citrus and coconut, all markers of bourbon cask maturation.

The chocolate

Citrus and coconut delight

Scooped in little white and dark chocolate, the ganache is composed of 40 per cent white chocolate and 60 per cent lemon curd topped with dried coconut.

The match

These two dance together. A harmonious match, full of live, the crispy texture of the whisky softens when meeting the creamy lemony ganache. On the other hand, the refreshing citrussy profile of the whisky gives a light kick to the white chocolate and lightens the rich and slightly fat feel of white chocolate. A perfect and well-rhythmical harmony.

Auchentoshan 12 Years Old

A different profile from the Classic, the 12 Years Old releases more fruity notes. The key notes being peach, custard and toffee.

The chocolate

Milk chocolate, passion fruit and peach crispy heart

A vanilla and milk chocolate ganache and a layer of peach and passion fruit purée, captured in a little shell topped with crushed wafer.

We wanted to bring in a fruity note and immediately rejected the idea of dark chocolate which would have brought out the oak bitter edge. Sue suggested to try a peach and passion fruit purée which worked wonderfully.

The match

A wonderful pairing. The fruity profile of the whisky is sublimated by the passion fruit and peach purée which gives the finish an extra length. Whisky and chocolate both rejoin on the crispy wafer in a tight embrace. Not a “whispering” conversation but a rich, complex and passionate one.

Auchentoshan Three Wood
The triple maturation has imparted oaky and spicy notes to the whisky, characterised by honey, spices and Damson plum alongside with dried fruit.

The chocolate

A chocolate mendiant

A dark chocolate heart covered with sultanas, prunes, figs and pecan. Seasoned with a just a hint of cinnamon.

Mendiant (beggar) is a French word that refers to the monks’ frocks which, depending on their order, were either white, brown or black. These colours can be found in the Mendiant, a little cake with almonds, figs and dates.

The match

Two pungent and characterful individuals who struggle to be the dominant one.

The matching works because neither overwhelms the other. They dominate each in their turn. The whisky oakiness is toned down by the dried fruit (especially the prunes) whereas the dark chocolate enhances the slight bitterness on the palate.

The clash of the Titans!

Auchentoshan 18 Years Old

An outsider in the range. Light and silky in texture, subtle in flavours, this whisky shows an elegant and delicate complexity. Green tea, lemon and cereal are the key markers.

It was quite an enigma when we looked for the perfect matching. A recent trip to Japan made me think of Macha tea. But we had to measure it very carefully as that superb tea can easily get bitter. A drop of lime essence suggested the citrussy profile of Auchentoshan and the dark chocolate was quite mild.

I personally thought it was the most exciting matching, though daring. Half of the audience did not really like it. The other half loved it.

The chocolate

Macha tea and lime ganache

A dark chocolate cup filled with a double layer: at the bottom, a dark chocolate ganache infused with a touch of lime oil. Then covered by green tea (Macha tea) and white chocolate ganache (70 per cent) and cream (30 per cent).

The match

A very delicate, intricate and intriguing pair. Highly spiritual, ethereal, delicate, almost hippie-like ! The two ganaches offer a soft and caressing creamy texture which tunes in perfectly with the silky feel of the whisky. The grassy and refreshing flavours of the whisky lighten the richness of the ganaches. A relaxing and complex pairing with an exotic touch.

Auchentoshan Limited Edition 1998

This cask strength whisky was specially released for the Auchentoshan Festival. Quite a pungent and sharp nose, marked by toffee and a floral note but also earthy with a touch of greenness (like unsweetened rhubarb). The palate is crisp and dry, nearly crunchy and very spicy.

It is difficult to deal with cask strength whiskies when it comes to pairing with food, as the alcohol tends to overwhelm the chocolate. Sue had the solution. She keeps blend of spices and rose petals in her cupboard. Once we had found the exact amount of spices needed for the top of the ganache, we were saved!

Although I was not 100 per cent convinced, a lot of the participants voted it the best match!

The chocolate

Rose massala and bergamot dark chocolate.

A dark chocolate ganache perfumed with bergamot and rose essential oils and topped with rose petal massala and a touch of crystallised violet.

The match

Uplifting, complex, it gives a feeling of wild and weird harmony. The whisky spiciness, rich and uncompromising is enhanced but also delicately toned by the complex mix of spices in the chocolate (cumin, a touch of chilli and the subtle floral note from the rose petals).
Energetic, concentrated, nearly explosive match. These two meet in action.