Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Experiment Pairing Chocolate and Scotch

I was once at a Scotch tasting where our host passed around dark chocolate to taste alongside the whisky.  He explained that the alcohol would chemically act upon the chocolate to break it apart and the result would be added depth of flavor.  This is similar to how adding a splash of water to a whisky can "open it up" and reveal deeper flavors.  At the time, I was skeptical that the host's chocolate might be a ruse to cover up a subpar single malt, but damned if he wasn't right about the pairing. 

My wife recently bought a bar of fine dark chocolate, and I thought it would be fun to taste a few tiles alongside some single malts and see which pairing I liked best.  I tried a variety of whisky styles including Highland Park 12, Glenlivet Nadurra 16, Ardbeg 10, Macallan Cask Strength, and Lagavulin Distiller's Edition.

Here are my impressions:

Highland Park 12:  The heather malty flavor of HP 12 does not pair well, and the chocolate drowns the complexity of the whisky.  Probably the least good pairing of the whiskies I tried.

Glenlivet Nadurra 16: An interesting pairing, as the chocolate seems to coax out a huge banana flavor from the Speysider and a little coconut as well.  Nice.  

Ardbeg 10:  The chocolate tempers the peat quite a bit, but overall a surprisingly good match between the chocolate and smoky peat.

Macallan Cask Strength: The sherry gives the chocolate a fruity touch, and the chocolate acts to restrain the sherry.  However, the combination of the chocolate with the sherry monster results in a bit of a boozy flavor, like a cheap cherry Schnapps.

Lagavulin Distiller's Edition: A great pairing: the refined oak, peat and sherry of the whisky all come through and mix beautifully with the chocolate.

Of the whiskies I paired, the Lagavulin Distiller's Edition was the clear favorite.  In general, whisky opens up the chocolate well, but the chocolate flavor becomes so intense that it in turn tempers the whisky and can clobber its subtlies.  However, strong peat mixed better than I expected, and I think the Lagavulin did particularly well because of its strong peat and sherry flavors combined with its "refined" quality.  Of all the whiskies, it was the only one that the chocolate might enhance.

Based upon this experiment, I would expect chocolate to go best with refined tasting Islay whiskies.  Not young malty peat monsters but whiskies where peat plays with refined oak.  In addition to Lagavulin, I would expect good matches with chocolate to be Bowmore 18, Laphroaig 18, and Ardbeg Uigeadail.


  1. As you may recall, I went to an event based around this premise, but the pairing was kind of lazy. There were a handful of varieties of Lindt chocolate, and a handful of Scotches, but no real attempt to pair anything in a meaningful way. It was still a very fun time, and I got to try some great stuff, so it wasn't a loss.

    I will say I agree that Islay smoke goes well with chocolate. Bowmore 15 went like gangbusters with Lindt Sea Salt chocolate.

    Different high end chocolate will have different flavor notes too, though I'm not sure the differences would be enough to matter when compared to stronger flavors from the whisky?

  2. Fascinating idea, I haven't heard of doing this before. I'll definitely try it now. Thanks for the great post and detailed analysis of your tasting experiment.

  3. @Padraic: I just found your original post and re-read it. Here it is:

    Now I wish I used a tab to re-try the Rosebank.

    @Joshua: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  4. The Rosebank was my last donated tab. I had it twice last year, so I wouldn't have repeated it as one of my "big ten," but it was well worth a taste again when I suddenly had more tabs than I needed. Hudson Single Malt, however, was not...what exactly causes that rotting fruit flavor that shows up sometimes? Cask infection?

    1. What do you mean by "tab". Are you referring to a sample bottle? 3cl? 5cl?

    2. Hi Josh, we're referring to the plastic tabs that are given upon entry to Julio's Liquors Whisk(e)y Weekend that are redeemed for a sample of the whisky of your choosing. You're given 10 tabs upon entry, thus some decision making and weighing of what to taste amongst the hundred plus whiskys available. Most years, though one friend or another does not drink all ten, and donates excess tabs, so it's rare I don't get to try something I truly wanted to.

    3. (Joshua Feldman): Well, Julio's sounds like the absolutely the coolest liquor store on the planet. I want some tabs!

      Anyway - I took part in an amazing chocolate and whisky pairing today. It was a preview for a Compass Box / Pacari event in NYC on 3/27:

      See the detailed tasting notes: