Though I do enjoy partaking in the odd spirit, it is not a regular occurrence, usually something after a meal when I am not feeling greedy enough for a dessert or just need something to round off an evening with a flavoursome short. For this event, Old Pulteney (who’s distillery is based up in Wick) put on their whisky and were represented by Glaswegian Andy Gemmell, who was ably supported by his crew on the evening. Andy was giving a class in showing how whisky can be paired with an array of food based on the age of the whisky. The perfect setting would be some kind of whisky den for this kind of event, and in the dimly lit speak-easy styled Jenny’s Bar of Liverpool, that was about as close as you can get.
The kicker for this event was that the food element was presided over by none other than Liverpool native Aiden Byrne of Manchester House and owner The Church Green in Cheshire. Although expectation was fairly high based on the reputation of the chef, judging by the response to each of the pairings on the night, this was surpassed quite readily and indeed stole the limelight from the main hosts somewhat.
The evening kicked off with one of the oldest cocktail recipes on record in a superbly mixed old fashioned, the recipe of which Andy Gemmell informed us, dated back to around 1806. This provided a subtle easing into the event and it did seem like Byrne needed one to find his way into proceedings, as he did somewhat admit he was alien to whisky in itself, let alone develop any kind of pairings with his food. This is a pretty salient point, as many people do regard single malt whisky in the same way they consider wine or certain types of beer; it is simply too daunting and to break the shell of the language, understanding the history and picking out flavours would single a novice out for ridicule; this is simply not so. As with other types of drink, this event made things very accessible and those in the industry would only be too accommodating to show people around and help them find something to enjoy regardless of their level of experience. Byrne built on this situation and by the by has developed a number of canapés to be enjoyed with a few of Old Pulteney’s whiskies.
Then we were invited to try the 12 year old, a much more complex whisky, which on reflection was the pick for much of the company kept for the evening; balancing the vibrancy of the young malts and some mellowing from barrel-age. The 12 year old carried aromas and flavours of red orchard fruit such as cherries and raisins with touches of salted caramel around the edge. This was a much sweeter whisky than the navigator also coming through with a slight spiced orange character. The food paired with the 12 year old was a cured (in orange blossom water and dried rose) snapper resting on a rice cracker flavoured with nori (seaweed) and bejewelled at the edges with salmon roe. Excellent to look at, even better in flavour and there was some clumsy description of this from my accomplice for the evening in that it was the ‘best prawn cracker I’ve ever had’. Aiden looked bemused, to say the least.
Following the 12 year old was the 17, which on balance was my pick of the night. The spice from the aroma was incredible, throngs of cumin and dark fruit buzzed out of the glass thanks to a double (or split) aging in former amoroso and bourbon casks. Flavours of burnt cream, all spice and vanilla are all prominent in this whisky. The food was also excellent, layers of flavour come through from a canapé with real length; a plum and chicken liver parfait with tobacco and chocolate was absolutely stunning, using aerated chocolate to provide some real texture in the mouthful too. This, in my opinion was easily the cleverest and most enjoyable food and whisky pairing of the evening.
Finally we were treated to some serious age with a 21 year old, amazingly seemingly lighter in parts thanks to a toffee apple character that then upon exposure of the length of the whisky imparted fig pudding, sweet Caribbean peppers, cloves and caramel – reminiscent of Christmas cake or pudding. The pairing came in the form of lobster, smoked apple puree and rosemary in a small cannelloni. The use of veal to bring some deeper texture and flavour was excellent and this balance of flavours; smoked savoury versus sweet, acidity and rich meatiness, cedar wood and vanilla all give rise to something very special.
Some serious consideration of whisky and food is due some deep thought.
Many thanks to Old Pulteney for the invite to their event and to Jenny’s Bar for their hosting; on this occasion there was no fee to attend the event, but the article above still reflects the opinion formed by the writer.
The Old Ropery, Fenwick Street, Liverpool
Tel: 07557 506660
Old Pulteney Whisky
Tel: 01955 602371
You can also follow Aiden Byrne on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/aidenbyrne