Should whisky and food be paired together, or, should whisky be enjoyed on its own?
Should whisky and food be paired together, or, should whisky be enjoyed on its own?
Image: 123RF / Jirapat Pantachot

It’s a strange job title: lifestyle journalist. That’s what I’ve called myself for many years now. I don’t report on politics, business, hard news or sport – that you’ll know by now.

My beat is everything else: the stuff that’s generally not life-changing but often distinctly life-enhancing, like fashion, food, design, art, fragrance, watches, cars and anything else that can probably best be described as the leisurely side of life.

So, as you can imagine, in my capacity as a lifestyle journalist, I have spent many of my non-nine-to-five working hours enjoying food and wine pairings as designed by chefs and sommeliers at some of the loveliest hotels and restaurants in South Africa and further afield.

Now, to those who drink alcohol, the concept of food and wine is one of those unassailable partnerships that go together like John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and macaroni and cheese. Even when people started creating red wines that tasted like chocolate and were to be paired with dessert, I at first kicked against the new convention but am finally a fan.

But food and whisky pairings? It’s unfortunately a relationship I’m not going to get used to in a hurry. The relationship problem is certainly not with whisky itself. And definitely not with good food. I simply don’t like them together.

Last week the good folk from The Macallan South Africa launched their new 12-year-old Double Cask at an elegant dinner hosted by epicurean master Tibz Motsoane. It was a sensational setting on the vertiginous edge of the Houghton Ridge. Our host is the gentlest of understated gentlemen who, himself, is a faithful epicurean, chef and partner in the Wildekrans MCC Atelier.

Perhaps that’s where the advice comes from, that whisky is an excellent slimmer’s tipple

The Macallan needs little introduction to connoisseurs: The eminently drinkable Macallan 12 Fine Oak is light in colour and over a large ball of ice it disappeared far too quickly. The guest of honour, the Double Cask, was a much heftier single malt that has been aged in American Oak Sherry-seasoned casks and has a rich copper colour to show for it. Although my palate still needs to evolve to the heavy-hitting single malt territory, reviews of the newcomer have been excellent and so far the Double Cask is a hit all over the world.

My dinner company was fascinating, the music delightful and the moonlit menu excellent: Smoked arancini di riso on arrival, wonton in a brisket and bone broth for starters, a delicately deconstructed duck and cherry pie for mains and a creative plate-it-yourself keylime pie concept for dessert.

But sadly the partnership was wasted on me. It’s not the first time I’ve indulged in a food and whisky pairing and somehow combining delicate culinary flavours with the powerful taste and aroma of a single malt feels a little excessive.

With the warm glow that came with every sip of the exquisite Macallan, I simply didn’t feel the desire to eat. (In fact, perhaps that’s where the advice comes from, that whisky is an excellent slimmer’s tipple?)

I’ve tried to do some homework on the subject to establish if I’m a complete philistine in my preference and, while I gather food and whisky pairings are on the up in Scotland, it’s not strictly the way whisky is drunk by the purists – except on Burns night when it does accompany the haggis.

So I’ll blithely continue to enjoy my whisky in smoky bars, to the tune of beautiful music and around late night dinner tables – once the dinner plates and wine glasses have been cleared away. Slainte.

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