And the other day I was thinking back to when I first got interested in this combination, wracking my brain for the first time someone suggested it to me.
While I’ve been lucky enough to work with incredible chocolates makers – such as Connor Freisen of Co&Co chocolates here in London, and Hodie Rondeau of XOXOlat in Canada (for the Victoria Whisky Festival in January) – there was a knowledge in the back of my mind that I’d come to enjoy these pairings before then.
And that’s when it struck me. A small memory came twirling out from the depths of my brain and I remembered there was a room…there were lots of bottles…and a soft Scottish voice telling me this was an incredible combination.
That person was Rachel Barrie, master blender for Bowmore Single Malt whisky. I’d gone to visit her in her blending lab in Glasgow last spring to learn more about what she does and how she works to blend whiskies. We’d talked science and molecules, tasted whisky inside and outside to see if the air made a difference, tried whisky with and without water. And then we tried some with chocolate.
And oh my.
How my fate was sealed to forevermore love this combination.
I was reflecting back on this because I have been running more and more chocolate pairings of late (check out this review of one I did up at the Midlands Whisky Festival on the Whisky Corner site). I have become fascinated by chocolate and its production, its history and influence around the world and hope to continue getting the chance to run events like these. Thinking back to when I first became interested in it was, therefore, key and it was funny then when a few days later I received a package with a new product to test out from that same company that Rachel works for: Bowmore.
Just before Easter, the company sent out its two new chocolates made by chocolatiers Montezuma: one infused with Bowmore 15 Darkest, the other with Small Batch Reserve. It was rather perfect timing since my brain was already Easter-fied and thinking frequently about chocolate. And while I normally run tastings using solid bars of chocolate, I was curious to see how these infused bars would turn out.
And I wasn’t to be disappointed. While the Bowmore 15 Darkest isn’t my favourite of the company’s range (I prefer the ex-bourbon cask led whiskies from the Islay distillery over this sherry-finished version) pairing the whisky and the chocolate together was stunning. All the rich, earthy, tobacco notes burst from the chocolate when I had a sip of the whisky and some of the sweetness of each was toned down. Plus, reading the ingredients I noted this bar has maple syrup in it. Give anything with maple syrup in it to a Canadian and you’re pretty much onto a winner.
Because I already love the Small Batch I decided to try the chocolate on its own. And while it was nice, I do think the Darkest bar is really where it knocks it out of the park. Plus it gave me a different opinion on a whisky that isn’t normally on my favourite whisky list.
And that’s what’s great about pairing – sometimes it can open up new worlds that you weren’t expecting to explore or like. I get a lot of people along to whisky and chocolate tastings who say they’ve never enjoyed or known much about whisky, but are drawn in by the chocolate. Once they taste the two together, it can be a great way to really ease through the intensity that newcomers to whisky can sometimes find daunting.
I look forward to seeing what other versions Bowmore comes out with. And in the interim, I’ll be the one chewing on a chocolate bar in the corner – which is saying something, given I’ve never been a ‘chocolate lover’. Whisky & chocolate has opened up a whole new world for me.