Whiskey and ChocolateBest of Taste Mates!
|On the banks of the Lee:|
Frank (left) and Niall.
So there’s a guy drinking whiskey. Not just any whiskey. This is The Pogues, fruity, rich and round, which is being launched in the US next week. But what’s he eating? Is that chocolate? Yes, it is. It is Shana Wilkies Amazones. What? Whiskey and chocolate. Yes, indeed, the perfect pairing. This whiskey and that chocolate meet on the palate and both are enhanced. What more do you need from a food and drink pairing?
That guy isn't the only one indulging. A whole roomful is at it. The room is called the Lookout, part of the revamp at the River Lee Hotel, a lovely room to which the River Lee’s Paula Cogan has just warmly welcomed us (mainly media and bloggers) to this unusual Whiskey and Chocolate Tasting. The guys taking us through the enjoyable evening (24th Feb 16) are Frank McHardy (a very experienced Scottish consultant with West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen) and Niall Daly (proprietor of the Chocolate Shop in Cork’s English Market).
As Paula said, the hotel is always on the lookout for “new local products” and was delighted that the two this evening were amazing and taking their place in the hotel offering. The evening had started in The Hub, a nearby room, where we enjoyed the Rebel Pour, a cocktail by River Lee mixologist Finbarr Collins. Ingredients: 40mls West Cork whiskey, 20 mls Pimms, topped up with homemade Lemonade, garnished with fresh strawberry and mint, an easy-drinking delight.
As we started the tasting, Frank told us he came from the Mull of Kintyre, 12 miles from the coast of Northern Ireland. “I’ve been working for fifty years in whiskey,’ he said. As a consultant he travels widely, soon off to Australia. “Not bad for a 71 year old bugger,” he laughed.
|Mixing a Rebel Pour|
These were the headline pairings for the evening:
Whiskey Flavour Notes
Chocolate Flavour Notes
West Cork Original Blend Whiskey &
Michel Cluizel’s Mangaro Lait 50% – Madagascan Origin
Sweet citrus and vanilla, malt. Sweet nougat with hints of lemon zest.
Caramel, exotic fruits, gingerbread, honey with sultana on the finish.
West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt & Domori Occumare 77 – 70% Venezuelan Origin
Malty, toffee, treacle notes. Hints of dairy milk chocolate
Apricot jam, cream and dried fruit. Excellent roundness & persistence, with low acidity and bitterness.
The Pogues Whiskey & Pralus Chuao 70% - Venezuelan Origin
Full-bodied, ripe fruits, nutmeg and sweet digestive biscuits
Earthy tones, muscovado sugar, lemon zest – Exceptionally smooth & a fine balance of bitter and acidity.
|Sweet things to finish on.|
And they were absolutely perfect. But Niall, assisted by Rose, had more than one pairing up his sleeve. When the English Market shop some fifteen years back, they were the first people to stock the famous Valrhona chocolate. But is was a hard sell and they moved very little of it for the first two years. Now their biggest selling bar is a 100%. His own favourite though is the 89% Wilkie's and indeed the Wilkies, made from bar to bean in Midleton, proved quite a favourite on the night.
There were also quite a few tips on the night. Frank cautioned against using ice in your whiskey. “Add a little water - it opens up the whiskey flavours. If you think it is a little cold, heat it up with your hand.” Niall warned us not to store chocolate in the fridge as “the cold damages the chocolate; heat will only change the shape. Store it at room temperature.” And then he had one more tip. You can start your day with it: Add some 100% to your porridge!
As I mentioned, the headline matches above all worked a treat. But there were one of two others worth mentioning, in particular the Vietnamese Marou 80% old plantation, a beautiful pairing with the West Cork Original Blend (75% grain, 25% malt).
|River Lee Hotel (top left)|
Another star was the Akesson’s Single Plantation 75% from Bali, a great match with the 10 year old whiskey and then of course the Wilkies with the Pogues.
The Pogues (50% malt, 50% grain) is quite a whiskey, one that you could easily mistake for a much older drink. But is just the normal three years and one day. Frank: “It shows that whiskey doesn't have to be old to be good. You get those roasted nuts and vanilla aromas, fruity, rich and round on the palate. Quite malty, ginger-y. And don't forget, add a little water to enhance the flavours.”
West Cork Distillers was born from humble beginnings. From the coming together of a food and drinks engineer and his two fisherman friends it now has become a global business selling in over 35 countries worldwide. John O’ Connell, Denis McCarthy and Ger McCarthy are the three pioneers. They reckon their use of local spring water (“from 3 kms down the road”) is a key factor as this natural soft water leads to a smoother whiskey. Nobody was arguing otherwise at the end of a very interesting and very enjoyable evening in the River Lee Hotel.