George Bernard Shaw
“The light music of whiskey falling to a glass – an agreeable interlude.”
“A torchlight procession marching down your throat”
John Louis O’Sullivan
“The whisky is befriending my body”
One of the reasons single malt Scotch whisky is exalted by so many is how it affects each of the human senses. Sight, smell, and taste, of course, are obvious. Joyce touches on the sense of hearing by describing the sound of his whiskey musically falling into a glass; other onomatopoeic delights include gurgling from the bottle, the pop of the cork, and the clink of a toast among friends. Sullivan, best known for coining the phrase “manifest destiny” to describe America’s westward expansion in the 1860s, described his reaction to the sense of touch. In whisky jargon, it’s called mouth feel, and the “torchlight procession” may last only a few seconds, or for several minutes.
The feeling of whisky “befriending” your body, as Sisco writes, opens the door to pairing various single malts with foods. Whether snacks, soups, entrées, or desserts, there’s a single malt just waiting for delicious pairings to happen. Consider the taste of crisp, peppery haggis chips beautifully enhanced with Talisker 10, oysters and Bowmore, and the Scottish chicken and leek soup called cock-a-leekie with a gentle Glenkinchie. When it comes to chocolate, nothing beats Cadbury Bourneville chocolate with Glenfiddich 15 or a luscious double fudge brownie, sticky toffee pudding or gingerbread with The Macallan Cask Strength. Chefs are beginning to suggest fuller, spicy and nutty Speyside malts with their main courses. Recently featured have been filet mignon, pine nut crusted rack of lamb, or fennel seed crusted Atlantic salmon paired with The Glenlivet 18 or The Balvenie DoubleWood. These whiskies accentuate and compliment the fats in the foods in delectable and subtle ways.
Scotland’s most famous drink has long been a muse for poets, writers, historians and the occasional comic. Over three posts, I’ve cited words of whiskey wisdom from William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, Abigail Padgett, Raphael Hollinshed, Carol Ann Duffy, Alfred Barnard, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, John Louis O’Sullivan and Kate Sisco. Glaringly absent from this list is Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns. Perhaps the most well-known of Burns’ whisky poems is “John Barleycorn”, and his most celebrated one-liner: “Freedom an’ Whisky Gang Thegither.” Here is a fitting tribute to the grain that makes Scotch whisky possible, excerpted from the Burns poem “Scotch Drink”:
Let husky wheat the hollows adorn,
And oats set up their bearded horn,
And peas and beans, at evening or morning,
Perfume the plain:
Blessings on you, John Barleycorn,
You king of grain!