During the last six years no company has done more than Diageo to promote the concept of serving whisky with food.
It has been an uphill struggle and one that has been dismissed contemptuously in some quarters and fiercely opposed in others. Indeed if you are in to conspiracy theories, then there’s plenty of ammunition to the argument that a powerful lobby of wine experts, wine producers, sommeliers and journalists is hard at work undermining the whole concept. Unable to use the same sneering tactics that the group uses for beer and food matching - with increasingly less success – it has instead ridiculed the whole idea of the whisky and food pairing.
Yet try and get a place at one of food and whisky pairing expert Martine Nouet’s dinners. Tickets sell out in minutes.
While no-one’s seriously suggesting that you should have five different whiskies with a five course meal (though it is a lot of fun) the concept of one course with a whisky for variety is becoming an increasingly accepted idea.
For much of the last six years, though, Diageo has ploughed a lonely furrow. But it has stuck at the task doggedly, working closely with food writer and restaurant consultant Richard Whittington to match quality malt with outstanding cuisine.
Now the company is reaffirming its commitment to the food sector by teaming up with Whittington once more and taking a new approach to the subject. It is all but declaring war on the wine oligarchy that is so contrary.
The company has launched a new section on its www.malts.com website designed to encourage food and whisky experimentation.
Throughout the coming year it will be working with Whittington to present an international smorgasbord of tapas-style pairings.
The site is Flash-powered and features outstanding food photography by Adrian Burke to bring the subject to life. Twelve single malts are paired with food. One section ties in to the new international theme by offering 30 recipe ideas featuring Thai, Indian, Chinese, Spanish and Italian dishes as well as Scottish.
Elsewhere the wine lobby is put to the sword. Richard Whittington is typically pugilistic about the campaign.
“Diageo is in a unique position to offer people a wide range of food and whisky pairings because no other company has access to so many excellent malt whiskies,” he says. “It is great that other companies are also promoting the idea of whisky and food but I think our pairings are outstanding.
“Over the years we have moved on from the idea that whisky can’t be served with food and it is much more acceptable. Good food is all about good taste. It is a delusion –fostered by some sommeliers, Masters of Wine and professional wine writers who won’t try anything different – to think that wine is the only possible partner to good food.
“Just as some wines achieve a perfect marriage with some dishes while others quarrel from the start, so some fine malt whiskies deliver a transcendent partnership with certain foods. You just need to keep an open mind – and have a good range of different malts to play with.
“Many otherwise discerning people have an irrational and negative feeling about malt whisky. When they actually taste a highly individual malt complemented by a carefully chosen dish of delicious simple food all their prejudices disappear. It is not so much a case of saying you will like this but rather, you tell me if you don’t. It is in every sense a hedonistic tasting in which the whisky draws attention to the food and vice versa.”
It seems that the message may be starting to sink in, certainly in some quarters. A new website launched by Fiona Beckett and called matchingfoodandwine.com (not the most encouraging start, is it?) does have an area where whisky and food matchings are included but you have to dig about for it. More about Fiona Beckett in a future issue.
Diageo’s new approach to promoting the food and whisky concept will mean less formal dinners with a menu of whisky with each course, to buffet style parties, each themed around the cuisine of a different country.
“The problem with the dinner idea was that we were very limited to the number of people we could invite,” says Whittington. “Each dinner was to a particular theme and the guests would come the once and that was that – far too narrow.
“With this approach we can hold more events, invite more people, and the event is more informal and doesn’t need to eat in to a whole evening.”
Commenting on the website move and the approach to international pairings Nick Morgan, global marketing director for the Classic Malts Selection says that the interest in the subject continues to grow.
“Richard Whittington has guided us on a fascinating journey of discovery and the new website embodies some of our most delicious and exciting finds.
“We know that for some foods a wine may be the best partner; but not for all, or on all occasions. And let’s face it, wine can be unpredictable and sometimes disappointing. Whisky delivers, and we’re convinced that adventurous and discerning lovers of food and drink are now willing to try a really good and upmarket malt whisky with food, and not just on its own.
“It’s time to share the secret; these combinations shouldn’t just be a hidden pleasure reserved for whisky enthusiasts.”
Diageo believes that it is entering a new and exciting phase in its food and whisky matching. Some pairings such as Lagavulin with a strong blue cheese have already become classics among people in the know, but with the range of Classic Malts enlarged to include malts such as Caol Ila, Glen Elgin and Clynelish, the opportunity to move the food pairings forward is at growing.
“We’re looking forward to a busy year in which we’ll see a whole new raft of people discover new taste sensations,” said Richard Whittington. “And that can only be good for the future of whisky in general.”Diageo is promoting its whiskies alongside dishes from a broad range of countries. Some of the most
Seared scallops served with Clynelish.
Crispy duck spring roll with Cragganmore.
Garam masala prawns with ginger and chilli with Glenkinchie.
Gravadlax with Talisker.
Chicken satay with Glen Elgin.
It is suggested that in each case the whisky is served in a white wine glass. For the full menu log on to www.malts.com
and go to the food section.