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Magic Happens when Cacao Bean meets Malt Barley


Magic Happens ImageA taste phenomenon happens when you pair your favorite dram with a quality chocolate.  It is more than "double the fun" as an intense new flavor emerges and your tongue is rewarded with the devilishly silky mouth feel when cacao "liquor" meets warming whisky. Pairing provides a decadent means to draw out specific and sometimes hidden notes of each spirit, thus enhancing your tasting experience.  Here at Sip Smoke Savor, we regularly encounter this tastebud nirvana in our efforts to find the perfect pairing.  How best to enjoy the synchronicity of barley and bean?






Here are our tips on how to do a proper tasting: 


  • Pour your favorite scotch. Enjoy it's color and aroma. 


  • Take a sip and focus on the mouth feel and flavors.


  • Once you have identified the predominant notes on your palate, choose a complimentary confection.


  • Enjoy the visual appeal of the chocolate; the shape and color of the bonbon or truffle.


  • Take a small bite and let your tongue explore it's velvety goodness as you register it's own unique flavors.


  • Notice the counterpoint of their fudgey, crunchy, gristy, or velvety texture.


  • Now savor them together and let their chemistry unfold.


  • Once you've reached jubilation, don't be selfish - share it!


 To share some of our pairing triumphs, we have provided a few guidelines and some exquisite combinations. In the "Chocolatier" section of our website, we have provided some of the best online confection artisans.  No "thank you's" are necessary.


General Guidelines to Pairing Whisky and Chocolates


Cacao beans grow in a narrow climate band 20 degrees north and south of the equator.  While some of the oldest growing regions are Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil, 70% of the world's supply today comes from Africa.  There are unique flavor notes to each cacao bean, depending on the region it came from.


Cacao is packed with anti-oxidants, iron and magnesium.  The beans are fermented, dried and roasted. Their meat called "nibs" are extracted and ground, then liquefied into something called the "liquor".  The percentage (%) of cacao you see on the label of any quality chocolate bar, refers to the percentage of cacao liquor and butter compared to other additives such as sugar, dairy, emulsifiers and other flavorings.


Milk vs Dark Chocolate


With the quality of today's artisan chocolatier, there are only a few rules I use when trying to decide on milk vs dark chocolate.  Generally speaking, a lighter bodied whisky will favor a milk chocolate, while a full-bodied and certainly a cask strength dram, will pair better with the darker, more robust chocolate flavors.  It is best to match intensities, so one doesn't overpower the other.  I've also found that you should avoid milk chocolate with whiskies that have an oily mouth feel, as it increases that sensation, making for a rather unpleasant pairing.  I also prefer stong spicy notes with dark chocolate, and found that medicinal expressions usually play better with darker cocoa.


Bonbons and Truffles


Bonbons iStock 000017225625XSmallYou could easily enjoy an unadulterated bar of premium milk or dark chocolate with your dram, but here at SIp Smoke Savor, we enjoy a bit more complexity with our pairings.  We have the most fun choosing bonbons or truffles to enjoy with our spirits.  They are decadent on their own, are often decorated like miniature works of art, and have various textures that might ooze or crunch, adding the extra sensory elements of beauty and texture to your pairing experience.


Of course, any pairing exercise is all about the flavor notes.  It is fun to isolate what taste you want to bring out of your whisky, and often surprising when a note that might normally be hidden is accentuated by this chocolate confection.  There are a couple of ways to go about this:


A)    Identify the predominant flavor note of your whisky, and mimic it with the bonbon filling or infused truffle flavor.


B)    Isolate an unusual flavor note, and see if you can accentuate it with your pairing.


C)    Use a complimentary flavor to produce an entirely new combination by pairing the two.


Because most single malt whiskies have complex palates, we always love to demonstrate how dramatically different the outcome can be with each of the three methods.  Here is a perfect example using the smoky, yet spicy/sweet Islay whisky "Ardbeg Uigeadail".

Hiding behind the smokiness of the Uigedail is a surprisingly strong caramel flavor that is pushed forward, as if on command, when paired with a chocolate covered caramel or toffee bonbon.  This is an excellent demonstration of isolating an unusual note in your dram.  (Technique B)

Pairing with a bonbon that is a combination of orange peel, pistachios and almonds, covered in dark chocolate isn't an obvious choice.  But it produces a wonderful combination that becomes an experience unto it's own.  The crunchiness of the nuts adds an extra dimension to your enjoyment, and the orange peel seems to salute the sherry maturation of Uigeadail, while the dark chocolate melds well with an underlying mocha note in the scotch.  (Technique C)

I think it's safe to say that any Ardbeg will be smoky and Uigeadail is no exception.  When paired with a macadamia nut and chipotle filled bonbon called Candela, the chipotle pepper absolutely mimics the smokiness after a second bit.  (Technique A)


"Inclusion" Bars and Barks


Many chocolatiers have become just as adventurous with inclusions to their gourmet chocolate bars as they have always been with bonbon fillings.  "Inclusions" is an industry term for those bits of other ingredients that go beyond the widely accepted basic items of cacao, milk and sugar.  They are typically categorized as Fruits, Herbs & Spices, Nuts, Nibs, Caramel, Salt, non-traditional flavorings, and of course, there always needs to be that miscellaneous category to cover ingenious additives such as pop rocks or rose petals.  Coincidentally, this may give you a head start at a match-up with our SIp Smoke Savor whisky flavor categories.  Our three pairing techniques above work just as well for these specialty bars, as they do with bonbons.  The advantage with a bar or chocolate bark is that it can be shared in a more cost effective way.  This is especially important when staging a whisky and chocolate pairing party.