Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reader Email: Shabbat Dinner Whisky Pairing Advice!

I received an email from a reader, Alexandre.  I wrote back a response and asked him if I could also post his email here.  He agreed.  My original email reply is briefer than what appears below.  I added to it in an effort to maybe trigger a response from you too.  Please chime in if you are so inclined.

. . .

Hi jason,

I came across you whisky blog , which i find interisting, and I see you were giving well-pondered advices there, so I thought i may asking for some of your advices too. I really need it .

My first encouter with quality whisky was in a trip to Scotland (I know , how stereotuypic). we (me and friends) tasted some whisky at a distillery visit, but the real "shock" was when we' were offered a glass of Dalwhinnie 15. 

I was stunned, I never enjoyed a alcholic drink so much .

I returnerd form Scotland and brought with me a set of 4 small bottles of 5 ml of single malt scotch, I liked them all, but unfortunately i don't remember the names , except the talisker 10 which I liked the least.

A year after, I bought a bottle of Dalwhinnie 15.
I started to drink it on a weekly basis. I am jew, and we have a festive meal each week on friday night, and i like to conclude my meal with a quality drink.

I liked the smell of the Dalwhinnie (and i always like the nose more) , but i was a bit disappointed of it. I didn't feel it was as i remembered. It was more bitter than i thought it will be , and i didn't managed to sense the taste well.
I still enjoyed to drink whisky on friday night, but when i finished the bottle, i decided to try something else.

I saw the Laphroaig has a lot of love ont the internet , so i wanted to try it.
I bought the Laphroaig Quarter Cask
It was better that the Dalwhinnie 15. I loved the smell ,and I still love it .
I can sit half an our smelling it and enjoy .
I think I liked it for being strong. It does feel good after drinking it.
I don't know what to think about the taste , i enjoy the taste it left in the mouth, but like the Dalwhinnie , i'm not sensing all the flavors you are all talking about in reviews.

By the way , I read somewhere the Laphroaig QC nose has banana and coconut flavor in it . It is funny, but i hate banana and coconut and still am fond of this smell.

I happened to add a new bottle before i finished the Laphroaig , the Talisker 10 .
I still don't know if i like it better than the Laphroaig , i enjoyed to drink not less , and i think i managed to catch its taste better,but again when i like better the "after-drinking" that's when it is in my mouth .
One thing I'm sure of : I like the smell of Laphroaig more.

I finished the two bottles now , both Laphroaig and Talisker , I enjoyed drinking them but I'm thinking peraphs I'm missing something in this Single Malt drinking since I'm not sure I feel all of these wonderful tastes, peraphs I'm a bad whisky drinker .

Two things I may do wong :

- Drinking after an heavy meal
- Not adding water

I tried adding water and drinking before eating , that was not THAT better , but may be a good direction (thought i really like the drink-after-lunch thing)

One more thing ; when i drink something like a Chivas 12 , I do feel it's poorer than those single malts i drink , even if i its taste is not complex at all.

It's time for me to buy a new bottle , and I wanted to ask what do you think should be my next step : try something different , and what? continue drinking the laphroaig or the talisker until i get the taste ? stop wasting my money of drinking Single Malt ?

I you read it all , thank you for taking your time an answering me .



Shabbat Dinner Appetizers by Flickr member: Julie
Shalom Alexandre!

Thank you for your email which raise a great many interesting questions.  Not sure I can respond to them all, but will try.

I presume that the meal you refer to is the traditional evening Shabbat meal.  I understand that it is a meal with many courses.  Accordingly, those present are going to enjoy a wide variety of flavors over a couple of hours, as various dishes are sampled.  These flavors will most likely interfere with the optimal tasting of fine Scotch whisky.  So, it comes as no surprise the glass of Dalwhinnie 15 you enjoy in isolation, is not as pleasant in the midst of a wonderful supper offering a multitude of tantalizing tastes.  By the way, Dalwhinnie 15 is never bitter on its own.  No doubt the food you enjoyed before affected your palate such that the Dalwhinnie tasted bitter.  For example, I can just imagine chowing down on some pita bread dipped in spicy baba ghanoush (Salat Hatzilim), and what that would do to my taste buds ability to appreciate any single malt, let alone one as delicate as Dalwhinnie.

Baba ghanoush
Shabbat meals vary depending upon the background (Sephardic or Ashkenazi), as well as the geographic location (ie. Brooklyn versus say Haifa).  The wide ranging flavor possibilities will mean there are no hard and fast rules for pairing with whisky.

The Sephardi of North Africa enjoy "chreime," a fish in a spicy tomato sauce.  However, to pair such a dish with Dalwhinnie would also be a mistake, and if there was ever a need for a 614th mitzvoh, it would to function as a prohibition on such a pairing.  Meanwhile, I can well imagine Talisker 10 or Laphraoig 10 being an excellent compliment to the spicy fish dish. 

                                              Sephardi-style fried fish
So, yes, drinking a particular single malt, after a heavy meal, may not work where the flavors of the meal do not compliment the malt.  How does one determine which foods work with which whisky?  Trial and error.  In time it can become more intuitive too.

Coincidentally Alexandre, in the same weekend that you sent your email, the whisky club I belong to had a barbecue.  There was a fairly extensive collection of bottles and the menu consisted of corn on the cob, steak, and lobster (clearly not Kosher!).  The disappointment you experienced with Dalwhinnie was similar to mine with Talisker.

When I landed at the barbecue, I chose Highland Park 25 years to start.  I figured, I hadn't eaten anything, so I should be able to enjoy the whisky without a palate that had been impaired by other foods.

The Highland Park 25 was mouth-watering, rich stabs of brown sugar, sandal wood and cinnamon.  Good?  Yes.  Great?  Nah.  While enjoyable I found it a little too woody for my liking and the price you pay.

I followed the HP 25 with a snort of Macallan 12 that seemed a little more flat than usual.  Just before the meal was served I moved to Talisker.  I couldn't appreciate the Talisker at all.  Didn't taste particularly good, but I knew otherwise from many tastings of the bottle without food accompaniment.  I didn't even bother to finish the Talisker.

The food arrived and I just knew intuitively that what would work was a gentle Islay single malt or a good quality blend.

There was an old bottling of Bowmore 10 years that worked perfectly. A lightly peated, oily, easy seaweed wonder of an Islay malt that was not overwhelming, and no long finish. Exactly what I needed to compliment my meal. The Bowmore worked well with the corn, the steak and the lobster.  This experience defies the ordinary wisdom that steak must be paired with a sherried malt.

This particular bottling was released by the Opimian Society (a Canadian non-profit wine purchasing cooperative) that is better known for their catalogs, which enable members to order cases of obscure wines from around the world. Once a year they obtain some Scotch whisky through an independent bottler. The Bowmore in the bottle before me was undoubtedly in the opinion of the malt master too weak to make it into the offical bottles of the distillery, and so that bulk malt got sold to independent bottlers. The Bowmore was close in taste to say White Horse or Black Bottle.

So, Alexandre, yes, I think it can be a bit of a mistake to drink very expensive whisky at a Shabbat dinner comprised of several courses.  Too many flavors abound upon the palate that will prevent you from appreciating the full complexity and wonder of a good malt.  Save the expensive whiskies for another time.  Instead, switch to a gentler tasting blend or entry level single malt.  Selection will depend on what you are eating.

Whisky Dog member Bob studies label of my favored cheap malt.

One advantage to drinking an affordable single malt or blend is that you will not stress yourself out with questions in your head as to whether or not you are appreciating all the nuances of flavor, not to mention the feeling that you are being wasteful.  

Wastefulness is not next to G-dliness
Speaking of being wasteful, maybe expensive single malt at a Shabbat dinner is not a good idea.  I think there is some rabbinical thought suggesting wastefulness is to be avoided at a Shabbat dinner.  While it is acceptable to splurge on fine food, drink, china, crystal and linen, one should avoid doing so to the point of wastefulness.  My Gentile cursory surf of the internet found some authority for this notion.  Check out Gemarra (Berachot 39b) for the law of Eiruv Chazteros (readers, if I am wrong feel free to point it out).

Single Malt Scotch Suggestion
Alexandre, you conclude your email with a request for suggested future purchases.  In my original email to you, I suggested Bowmore 12 years, a nice gentle Islay.  I suggested an Islay based on your affection for Laphroaig.  I think the Bowmore will work well at Shabbat too, as it is gentle.

I have one more recommendation from Islay.  My favorite of Islay is Lagavulin 16.  Extremely exquisite, truly special and to be enjoyed all by itself (with water if you wish - by the way, adding water to whisky is not a mistake if you like what it does to your spirit).

But, whatever you do, don't drink Lagavulin with a cigar, as the latter will rob all the magical flavor angels dancing on your palate.  Please, do as I say, not as I do . . .

Whisky Dog Bob (left) looking immensely pleased with himself.

Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Certain photographs appearing in this post are used with the permission of the photographers.  Their photos are not to be reproduced without their permission unelss they have granted it pursuant to a Creative Commons license.  Photo credits: (1) Shabbat photo taken by Flickr member Tim Sackton and used on this blog pursuant to a Creative Commons licence; (2) Shabbat appetizers taken by Flickr member Julie and reproduced here pursuant to a Creative Commons licence; (3) Baba Ghanoush by Flickr member Daniel Rigos who holds all worldwide copyright and moral rights to this photograph.  No reproduction is permitted without his written consent; (4) Sephardi Fried Fish by Tamorlan and published with consent pursuant to a Creative Commons licence.  (5), (6) and (7) taken by Whisky Dog Ken, and no reproduction without his consent.  I act as a liason to any such requests and my favors may be bought . . . cheaply.


  1. Great article as always Jason. I believe the pack Alexandre brought back from Scotland would have been the Diageo Single Malt Whisky Flavour experience which features Dufftown 12, Glenkinchie 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Talisker. My favourite of the bunch funnily enough would be the Talisker and Diageo has tinkered with the mini's included over the years - sadly no more Port Ellen.

    A Shabbat meal is an unknown quantity to me so reading this has been an education, however whisky parring with meals seems to be a growing trend. A light floral malt, reasonably priced is always my choice if I do have to have a wee dram during a meal. I'd recommend the Deanston 12 or a Bladnoch - either the staple version or the lightly peated, which is my current malt of choice.

    Alexandre, give a Clynelish or Balblair a whirl if you can. Generally, work your way towards an Islay malt. It takes time and some never reach it's shores but find solace in other distilleries. There is after all, plenty of choice.

  2. Jason, Interest in food/whiskey/wine matching formed the basis for our local cooking club. Alexandre has indicated real curiosity for investigation of single malts. Bravo I saw, with a caveat: single malts feature vivid aromas and flavors and often challenging textures. They can be very challenging to match to vividly flavored courses. I suggest backing off on one or the other in terms of intensities: try single malts with savory foods that are less sweet or less pungently spiced. Or second, try Scotch blends next with those big flavored or sweet-sauced or sour courses; blends demand less attention and can match foods more reliably. They're cheaper too. A beginner won't go far wrong first with three well-known examples: Johnnie Walker Black (lightly-sherried, smokey), Chivas Regal (honeyed, fruity), Cutty Sark (citrusy, floral). Once you find matches that work for each style, it becomes easier to "amp it up", to suggest specific single malts to try next. Cheers ! JK

    1. Yes,blended Scotch whisky is really a better option with large meals. It just takes a little imagination to figure out what foods pair with what blends.

      Always good to hear from you!

  3. I started to drink it on a weekly basis. I am jew, and we have a festive meal each week on friday night, and i like to conclude my meal with a quality drink. Bordeaux wine

  4. Hi guys,
    I am the quoted email author , just wanted to relate that I followed Jason advice and bought a bottle of Bowmore 12, and absoluty LOVED it.
    It's now basically my every weed-end drink, i'm really enjoying it.
    So thank you a lot !!

    By the way , I happened to find a Green Label bottle for a ridiculous price , not sure if the seller knew it has been dicontinued, but it was the same price than a year ago. So i bought it and tried it at Shabbat Dinner. (instead of just keeping it for investment, i think they have another bottle peraphs i should invest)

    Anyway , i liked the Green Label , but then i came back to the Bowmore , and it tasted far far better in contrast . I really realized how awesome was the bowmore.

    So thank you again, great advice.

    BTW , are the green label prices really going to get crazy soon in your opinion ?