This had to be one of my favorite Serious Chocolate columns to write: a scotch and chocolate pairing session with Marcia of Sip Smoke Savor. She sent me seven bottles of nice single malt scotch, a box of nine Chuao chocolates, and guided me through the pairing. It was very edifying, especially for someone like me who has long been intimidated by single malt scotch ("do you detect a hint of saddle leather, Wilfred?" "Quite so, Algernon, quite so").
The chocolate mitigates the alcohol burn and more medicinal flavors in some of the whiskies, so you can taste the other notes more clearly than you might alone, especially if you're not already an expert.
Shall we get started?
7 Scotch Pairings with Chocolate
1. Glenmorangie Nectar D'or 12 year; Miel bonbon (honey almond hazelnut praline): Marcia mentioned the "honey and heather" notes in the scotch, which is a beautiful pale gold; it's aged in bourbon and Sauterne casks, so there's a lot going on flavor-wise. There's some almond hiding in there as well, which made the bonbon a natural match.
2. The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year; Zen bonbon (ginger/green tea ganache): Another pale highland scotch, this one aged in oak casks. A bit more citrus action here, which the ginger in the chocolate complemented very nicely.
3. Bunnahabhain 12 year; Java bonbon (coffee buttercream): Starting to get a little malty and smoky. There's a coffee note in the finish that the bonbon really heightens. The inherent sweetness in this scotch does very well with the chocolate.
4. Highland Park 18 year old; Morocho bonbon (almond hazelnut praline, buttercream with Calvados): When I mentioned this scotch to a friend, he let out a nostalgic sigh: "That's the one that really got me into scotch." Noticeably peaty, but with a pronounced sweetness, I can see why. It's very well-rounded and approachable. The Morocho really extends the finish; both of them at once produces a pronouncedly layered effect.
5. Aberlour a'bunadh; Picante bonbon (raisin fondue, cabernet caramel and spices): The scotch is starting to get noticeably darker in color and richer-tasting; this had quite a creamy, nutty flavor to it. The bonbon brought out the fruitier notes, with the faint spiciness a nice foil to the richness of the liquor.
6. The Balvenie Rum Cask 17 year; Grignottine Dark (roasted almonds, pistachios, and candied orange peel with dark chocolate): This pairing seemed more on the matchy-matchy side, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There were definitely almond and orange flavors in the scotch, which the chocolate complemented pretty perfectly. A great illustration of the notes themselves, heightened by the chocolate.
7. Ardbeg Uigedail; Melao (soft salt butter caramel) and Candela (macadamia praline and chipotle): I'd encountered the Ardbeg before; I remembered it as the Campfire Scotch. Seriously, it's that smoky—it straight-up smells like a bonfire. These pairings blew me away; the two bonbons really changed the flavor of the scotch. The Melao brought the smokiness way, way down: I could actually taste other notes, and the caramel brought out a really nice brown sugar flavor. The chipotle in the Candela had the exact opposite effect, magnifying the smokiness and bringing out several different levels within it. The difference between the two was profound, especially going back and forth.
So what did I learn? Definitely to relegate scotch tastings to the end of the day. I'm glad I followed Marcia's advice on that. I spent the rest of the early evening trying not to walk into walls. That aside, these pairings will give you a different appreciation for scotch. Since the booze can get expensive, try getting a couple of friends together to do the tasting. Three or four pairings would be plenty for an evening of lively discussion.