'Having whisky in a glass is like meeting a person you've never met before. You get to know [them], then slowly give it time,' Martine Nouet explains as she pours a little whisky onto her hands, rubs them together and then breathes in the smoky peat scent. Ms Nouet is considered one of the world's five top whisky tasters and has paired whisky and food for grand dinners across Europe, the UK and the USA, as well as judging the annual international Wine and Spirit competition in London. Spend some time in her delightful company and you quickly discover her expertise. A food writer and passionate cook too, she presents a television series called The Whisky Chef and has written food columns extensively for French newspapers.
Martine Nouet is currently in Australia to host a series of Whisky Live events, and Peter and I had the pleasure of spending time in her company during a Whisky Dinner held at La Scala in Canberra last week. Now if you had asked me what I knew about whisky before this, I would have said that Peter and I have a couple of old bottles of good stuff tucked away and, occasionally, I sprinkle a few drops onto my home made mud cake or chocolate truffles. But there is so much to learn, particularly when it comes to tasting and matching whisky with food.
Before the dinner, I asked Ms Nouen to share with me her favourite way of cooking with whisky: 'Lobster,' she answered. 'A fisherman lives in the next village to my home on Islay and I order 1kg lobsters from him which he brings to my house. I have a big milk churn that came from my uncle's Farm in Normany and I fill this with seawater. First, the lobsters have a nice hot spa (she chuckles) and then I plunge them into the cold seawater. That makes them absolutely delightful. I keep the dish simple, the whisky is in the butter sauce, just a spoonful of whisky into melted butter, some grated lemon zest and ginger poured over the lobster and then baked very quickly in a tepid oven.' Sounds divine!
Ms Nouet then takes the floor to welcome diners to the Whisky Dinner. 'This evening at La Scala we have a little whisky treat for you and we will take you from Scotland, where I live, to Tasmania, where I will be going very soon. Let's start with the whisky, we will taste it together and then we will bring the food and I will tell you about matching whisky and food.' Oui, yes please!
'For me it's not a question of chemistry, it's a sensory thing,' Ms Nouet explains. 'We use all our senses: look at it and see the lovely colour, smell it and inhale its aroma, and then taste it, but not as you would with wine, as it will burn your mouth! Taste a little and roll it on your tongue, allowing your saliva to dilute it.'
The five course degustation begins...
Wafer-thin slices of raw eye fillet drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, capers, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese shavings and rocket are served with Caol lIa, a peated 12 year old whisky from a distillery on Ms Nouet's magnificent homeland of Islay in Scotland. It tastes of seaweed, smoke, and salt, with a sweet and dry peppery finish, a perfect match for the carpaccio. Incidentally, Caol Ila is Gaelic for 'the Sound of Islay'.
Next, seared scallops (served rare) atop a sweet carrot puree with pan tossed spring onions, oyster mushrooms and baby English spinach, lightly dressed with a sweet aged balsamic reduction.This is served with 16 year old Glen Moray, a distillery in Speyside, Scotland that has produced single malt scotch whisky for over 100 years. The spiciness and hint of vanilla sweetness in this whisky gives a little 'kick' to the scallops. Glen Moray also pairs well with chocolate.
Then we enjoy a superb creamy Porcini mushroom risotto with white wine and English baby spinach served with a 10 year old whisky from Hellyers Road, Australia's largest distiller of Australian single malt whisky, located in Burnie, Tasmania. This whisky is creamy on the palate with a crisp and dry finish, and matches the creaminess of the risotto beautifully.
And next, we try a dram of what Ms Nouet describes as a very, very special whisky: The Glenrothes 1991, an award winning Speyside single malt whisky of outstanding quality that has notes of creamy vanilla and ripe citrus fruits. This was paired with Victorian highland grass fed lamb rump (disappointingly chewy), accompanied by Enoki mushrooms and English spinach on a beetroot and white polenta base, topped with lemon and lime butter.
Our dessert is a (very sweet) white Belgian chocolate panna cotta that has a thick Drambuie reduction on top. A 16 year old Glenlivet Nàdurra single malt Scotch is the accompaniment to this dish. This whisky has a full flavour, with notes of honey, matching the dessert very well.
And to finish, a drop of The Nant single malt whisky (Sherry Wood Cask) from the central highlands of Tasmania. This special whisky is made from brewer's barley grown by the distillery and grist at a historic water-driven, convict-built flour mill at Nant near Bothwell. Interestingly, the company offers opportunities to invest in a barrel of Nant single malt, with a 9.5% return through a guaranteed buy back program!
The following evening, we attended the Whisky Live tasting expo, held at the historic Albert Hall in Canberra. The 1920s building was perfect for the event, which was hosted by Ms Nouet and showcased a range of new as well as long time favourite whiskies from countries around the world (including India, Australia, Scotland, the United States and Ireland). Attendees had the opportunity to speak to 'Whisky Ambassadors', that is, the people behind the brands, and also taste whisky paired with Brix chocolate, Tilba cheese and Wapengo Rocks oysters (note: watch Good Things for a future post on Wapengo Rocks, Australian certified organic oysters!). Whisky Live events are taking place in Perth, Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane; and all across the globe, well worth attending if you're even vaguely interested.
Pictured above: Martine Nouet hosts, Whisky Live in Canberra at the historic Albert Hall in Canberra, Pari Pathak with Kentucky Whisky, Drambuie the Royal Legacy limited edition, Jordan Berger from Glen Grant, Guy Lamond and Shane Buckley from Wapengo Rocks, and Graham Coull, manager of Glen Moray, and Whisky Live at the Albert Hall.
And just a few whisky facts...
For those interested in knowing more about the whisky story, Pip Courtney featured Tasmanian single malt whisky on an episode of Landline recently.
Peter and I were guests of Whisky Live and Martine Nouet. Many kind thanks to the organising team for giving us this opportunity. For more information about Whisky Live, visit the Whisky Live Australia or Whisky Live World Whisk(e)y Tasting Shows web sites.
Tell me dear readers, are you an aficionado of whisk(e)y and how do you use this spirit in your cooking?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes, postcards and morsels from my adventures, conversations with cookery writers
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.