The new limited-edition expression from Johnnie Walker’s iconic Blue Label series is mysterious and enticing. The name, Elusive Umami — itself an enigma shrouded in a secret — pays homage to that fleeting, somewhat indefinable “fifth taste”.
One could wax lyrical about this whisky's inspiration and genesis — it's a collaboration between Johnnie Walker’s master blender Emma Walker and world-renowned chef Kei Kobayashi — or one could obtain a first-hand account from someone who’s been bringing its flavours to life. That someone is highly respected chef Wandile Mabaso, a culinary force with an insatiable desire to explore.
For the SA launch of Elusive Umami, Mabaso created a spectacular five-course meal where every dish revealed various notes that make up its complex flavour profile. “It could have been very simple and easy,” he says. “I could have pulled out your regular hits that speak to everyone, but I really wanted to go deep. I had to think outside the box and tap into my catalogue of flavours, my catalogue of ideas, my catalogue of crazy things that I’ve always wanted to play with.”
And that’s exactly what Mabaso did, taking guests on an atypical dining experience that ventured far beyond the usual tasting. “The approach was to pair perfectly with the food, but to also have a story behind the food and the drink and, at the same time, make it visually appealing,” he says. “We have something that we call a by-product, or a third flavour, which is a flavour that is never added in but is tasted at the end.”
It sounds quite theoretical, but Mabaso is all about tangible experiences and goes on to explain that the chocolates he paired with Umami create an explosion of espresso flavours, even though there is no actual coffee in the mix. A ghost flavour, if you will. It’s all very curated — and awesome for those lucky enough to have a world-class chef preparing a pairing menu for them.
But what about the person who’s bought a bottle and wants to enjoy the same experience at home? Mabaso suggests highlighting the flavour you want to hone in on, then ensuring your pairings are simple, clean and natural. Dry wors or biltong to extract salt. A pure chilli flavour for spice. Artichokes to complement sour. Unpacking Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami will be a bit of an adventure. But that’s the point.
This article was sponsored by Diageo SA.
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