The Valentine’s Day routine could use a little and variety. This year, instead of grabbing a bottle of red wine, pair your sweet treats with something you can both get excited about: whisky.
“You should know this stuff,” Anthony Bourdain said of the amber spirit for “Whiskey Distilled” by Heather Greene, the NYC-based spirits sommelier who led our recent tasting of two of Scotland’s finest paired with some unique bites from Belgian chocolatier Neuhaus.
While whisky straight up or on the rocks might have been too in-your-face, chocolate can bring out its complexities — and even change the way it tastes entirely. “You’re gonna see not only the whiskey changes but your relationship to the chocolate will change, too,” says Greene.
There are three tasting notes at play, tweaking the tastes of both the whisky and chocolate:
1. Contrasting: Flavors that are very different but work together.
2. Complementary:Flavors that meld seamlessly, like honey and lavender.
3. Echoed: Flavors present in the whisky and chocolate, which can bring out new aspects of both.
Besides taste, with whisky you’re also looking for texture: “How does it feel in your mouth? How does the finish feel all down your throat?”
There’s no “right” way to do the tasting, so switch up trying the whisky or chocolate first. Like wine, you nose whisky, too. Hold the ship in your mouth and let it coat your tongue to get the full flavor. The cask – or casks – in which it’s aged grants 75 percent of the flavor, and while wine continues to age in the bottle, whisky stops aging out of the cask.
“In America, we talk a lot about bourbons and ryes,” which by law must be made in virgin oak casks and tend to be sweeter, Greene explains. “You could do an entire version of this with American whiskeys, and it would be an entirely different experience.”
Auchentoshan Three Wood
This single malt from the Scottish lowlands was aged in three different casks: American bourbon, Spanish oloroso sherry and finally Pedro Ximenez sherry. “Triple-distilled whiskey is very common in Ireland, but there’s only one in Scotland,” says Greene. What Auchentoshan Three Wood lacks in peat and smoke, it makes up for with a spicy finish. There are also echo flavors of butterscotch and caramel that work with the chocolates.
Galerie: Fleur de sel in this chocolate cancels out any bitterness in the whisky, making it even more sweet and syrupy.
70% Cocoa Carre:A sophisticated bite contrasting the bitterness in both the roasted cocoa beans and whisky.
Louise: This subtle praline made with cocoa from Java will coat your mouth as it melts, which brings out the whisky’s subtler sweet notes as you sip.
Bowmore Darkest 15 Years
Matured in bourbon and sherry casks, Bowmore's 15 exemplifies the distinctly peaty variety of whisky. Made on an island, Islay, it has a long finish of earth (the whisky is aged below sea level) and mineral saltiness of the ocean. “Islay is known for creating what people think of as scotch: big smoke, peat, earthy, briny, oyster, alabaster, salt,” says Greene. “You’re gonna be really surprised how beautifully smoke in the whisky, with that nuttiness and spice, works with the chocolate.”
Divine: This caramel with hazelnut bits coaxes out the whisky’s dark chocolate and toffee notes.
Sesame Carre: Let this one melt in your mouth — the toasted seeds amplify the whisky’s forward flavor.
1857: The warm spiciness of speculoos (cookie butter) in the center of this praline echoes the mellowness of Bowmore’s darkest scotch.
Neuhaus has three locations in NYC, and ships the "When Neuhaus Meets Single Malt Whisky" collectioninternationally from its online store. Find Auchentoshan and Bowmore whiskies at fine liquor stores.