The Holiday Season is here – a time for spending time with friends and loved ones, eating copious amounts of great food and enjoying more drams than you would normally allow yourself. It really is one of my favourite times of the year, despite the freezing cold weather, regular snow and rainfall and distinct lack of warming sunshine. The whisky and food more than make up for it.
With that in mind, I’ve turned my attention to food and whisky pairings, an age old concept but one that is ever changing and evolving with the release of new expressions, new ways to mature whisky and the new flavour profiles that come with it. With the amount of incredible food that is likely to be on your table, and eventually in your belly, in the coming weeks, it’s worth getting a nice bottle of whisky to go along with it that will hopefully result in a taste sensation.
Nabemono (more commonly known as “nabe”) is a hugely popular meal in Japan come winter time. A Japanese hot pot, of which there are a number of different styles, filled with an array of vegetables, meat of your choice, boiled eggs, noodles and much more packed inside a warming miso or soy sauce based soup, it’s a dish you really can’t go wrong with. Different regions around the country make their nabe in different ways, each with their own unique traits, and they’re all incredibly warming, full of flavour and go fantastically well alongside a tasty whisky.
For this I’d have to recommend the Akashi White Oak 5 Year Old, matured in a bourbon barrel. As a young whisky, this one brings some spirity notes to fore before the gentle sweetness from the bourbon cask creeps through. When paired with the sweetness of the veg and the saltiness of the meat and broth, it creates a truly astounding and exceptionally well balanced tasting experience that is to die for.
If you’re looking for something to warm you up in the most delicious of fashions, you needn’t read any further, you’ve found it right here.
The thought of beef tongue may not be one that kicks your salivary glands into immediate action, but you shouldn’t judge it before you try. I know that’s been said about millions of things throughout the decades, but honestly, curried beef tongue ramen from the city of Sendai is something that you should not pass up the opportunity to get your gums around given half a chance.
Rich, meaty and packing with a range of spices, the tender beef tongue comes with noodles, nestled inside a deep bowl of curry sauce that brings a whole array of powerful flavours of its own. It’s worth having a glass of water on hand, as well as your whisky and that’s not to say that this is a particularly spicy dish, but the heat certainly builds as you eat.
I’m going to recommend one of the finest Japanese whiskies ever created to go alongside this exquisite bowl of deliciousness – the Yamazaki 18 Year Old.
The rich sherried notes along with the distinctive array of spices coming from the mizunara oak add an extra depth of flavour to the already complex ramen, working your palate from front to back and covering everything in between in the process. What’s more, the bold and fruity flavours of the whisky manage to stand up to the richness of the ramen where some lighter expressions wouldn’t be able to – it’s a match made in heaven.
For dessert, there’s nothing I like more than a matcha cheesecake – one of the most iconic flavours in the whole of Asia combined with sweet creamy cheese and the star of any cheesecake – that incredible buttery biscuit base. It’s hard to improve on this fine dessert, but a dram of Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Old somehow manages it.
The sweet, stickiness and hints of citrus fruits in the whisky combine excellently with the grassy, slightly nutty and citrus tones of matcha, while the matcha’s bitterness brings a new dimension to the whisky, cutting through those teeth-tingling notes of sticky toffee and brown sugar.
The butter from the biscuit melts onto your palate and joins the salvo of flavours that are already there, bringing a gentle saltiness that tops off your meal in style.
Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most enjoyable evenings of the year. Your friends and family gather round and feast on Turkey with all of the trimmings, and if you’re like me, that really means all of the trimmings.
For this one, I had to go with a Sherry wood finished whisky. The richness and sweet fruity flavours marry with the stuffing and turkey like nothing else, bringing what can sometimes be a slightly boring meat (forgive me, turkey lovers) to life.
The Yoichi Sherry Wood Finish is the perfect whisky for this. It has a citrus sweetness, light vanilla and gentle oak backed up by dark fruits, cinnamon spice, gentle roasted coffee and much more. It’s one that is not so overpowering that the flavour of your turkey all but disappears, but it still manages to bring enough to the table to take your Thanksgiving meal up a level.
If you can’t get your hands on the Yoichi Sherry Wood Finish, pick another expression that has been finished in sherry wood or matured in a second-fill cask, just to ensure you get all you can from thanksgiving dinner without the whisky dominating the meal.
My second favourite dessert behind Matcha Cheesecake is profiteroles. The choux pastry, the cream on the inside and the chocolate sauce drizzled over the top create an astounding tasting experience on their own, but what happens when we add whisky to the equation? Well, it only gets better.
To go along with this dessert, and for our last pairing of today, I’m choosing one of my favourite blended expressions in the entire world and it’s one that offers incredible value for money too – the Hibiki Harmony.
Hints of melted butter, red berries and fragrant sandalwood spice compliment the sweetness of the profiteroles while the whiskies citrus zest finish brings a subtly bitter twist that lingers on your palate, leading you right up to your next bite or sip. It’s a combination that is as harmonious as the whisky itself and one that I’d highly recommend.