Symphony of A Well Curated Tasting Event

March 6, 2013 § 10 Comments

Pour yourself a dram and enjoy the following review, I have a LOT to say about this remarkable event by fellow whisky enthusiast, Joshua Feldman.

To set the mood (and you’ll understand why later), I invite you to play Brahms Sextet in G-major as you read along.

Let’s begin!

As I enter the 6th month on the market with my whisky, Brenne (can’t believe my baby is 6 months old!), it’s extremely rare right now for me to be able to quite my Brenne-centric brain long enough to attend (vs conduct) a tasting event.  However, when one of my favorite bloggers & whisky enthusiasts, Josh Feldman (of the Coopered Tot blog) announced that he would be presenting his first solo whisky tasting event where he’d be taking an audience through a carefully selected grouping of high-end chocolates + whiskies at the beautiful Morgan Library in the heart of Manhattan, and then graciously invite me to be his guest(!!!!) well, I just HAD to be there.

And was I ever thankful to do so.  That night will stick with me forever.

Place_Setting

Josh_Speaking

FIRST, my company.  (SIDE NOTE: One of whom is a fellow blogger -Susannah Skiver -and we thought it would be fun to post our reviews on the same day. Click to read her take!)

I went by myself which I really enjoy doing on occasion because I find that the world opens up around you in ways you might not have ever experienced otherwise.  Everyone was assigned to a different table and was I ever blessed by the Whisky Angles.  To my right was the enjoyable intellect, Clay Gordon (The Chocolate Life, @DiscoverChoc, chocolate expert, author, entrepreneur, etc), and to my left was the fantastic blogger and insightful taster, Susannah Skiver Barton (What Tastes Good blog, @whattastesgood).  Next to Susannah was Rebekah Pizana who came up from Washington DC where she is a Gourmet Food/Drinks writer (I Write Gourmet blog, @IWriteGourmet) and across the table from us were a wonderful couple, Julie and her husband Derek, who is a professional classical musician.  Our conversations ranged from food & whisky chemistry to music composition to changes in culture with a dash of psychology  – and all under the umbrella of the fantastically curated pairing of chocolates by Pacari and a wide range of whiskies selected by Josh.

ThreeAmigos

Clay Gordon, Allison Patel, Susannah Skiver Barton

At this point, it would be extremely unfair of me to list my tasting notes as A) I’m afraid I might start drooling at the memory going back through all of the different combinations and B) I’ve been wanting to share my whisky-piphanies of the night with you and get your reactions to the fun!  Do you still have the classical music playing? Good!

Here’s what went down:

  • Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or – paired with Pacari Piura 70% regional varietal
  • Compass Box Hedonism – paired with Pacari Lemongrass
  • Glendronach 15 “The Revival” – paired with Pacari 65% Manabi regional varietal
  • Aberlouer A’Bunadh – paired with Pacari 65% Manabi regional varietal
  • Ardbeg Uigeadail – paired with Pacari Salt & Nibs
  • Balcones Brimstone – paired with Pacari Fig

There is a debate about which comes first (no, not that age-old chicken/egg one), the chocolate vs whisky one!  And it was great how instead of choosing one way, they switched it up depending on which set we were on and how they thought the two would be be experienced.  Sometimes we were instructed to try the whisky first, other times we started with the chocolate.  I found that I preferred to start with the whisky because I really enjoyed how the fats in the chocolate changed the whisky when I went back for a post-chocolate sip. (This was my whisky-piphany #1).

The Pacari ambassador explained that when eating a fine chocolate, to rub a piece in between your fingers first.  This warms the chocolate and starts releasing some of the oils and fragrances.  Second, smell the chocolate.  Next, place it on your tongue and let it continue melting.  Don’t chew and swallow quickly – let the chocolate roll around in your mouth just the way you do with whisky.  Experience the velvety bite in all sections of your palate and then when you have a nice thin layer covering your tongue, go ahead a re-visit your whisky.

WHISKY-PIPHANY(#1)

The introduction of the alcohol to the fat molecules in the chocolates release new compounds that you wouldn’t have experienced without the other.  THIS was the most exciting discovery to me.  After going through these steps for the second pairing, in the midst of the 3rd Clay suggested I go back and try the Compass Box Hedonism.  There was an explosion of jasmine present in the whisky that was not there previously.  And since our table was often jumping in to the larger conversation, Clay opened this idea up to the room and it was so cool to watch most people go back to their Hedonism and get giddy with the same discovery.

This happened in reverse on the first tasting as well, when starting with the chocolate then whisky, when most went back to the chocolate – there was a distinct rich apricot/tart berry flavor that was coming out which was not there when either the chocolate or whisky was consumed on their own.  AWESOME.

WHISKY-PIPHANY (#2)

My second whisky-piphany was when Derek (the classical musician) suggested that Brahm’s Sextex in G-major would be the perfect audio pairing for the Aberlouer A’Bunadh & Pacari 65% Manabi regional varietal combination.  What?!  Why have I not explored this notion deeper in the past?  (By the way, the song at the top of this post is just that, Brahm’s Sextex in G-major Movement I).

As whisky analyzers, we pay attention (& often record) all of our other senses, sight, smell, taste & mouth feel, but what about sound? In the past, I always preferred to analyze my tastings in silence (though when I’m just sitting around enjoying whisky, I do enjoy a good flow of music and/or conversation!)  But I’m curious to know, are there any specific artists, songs or genres of music that you enjoy listening to while drinking whisky, either generally, by style or by specific dram?

Sound is a vibration, a pulse, movement.  As a former classical ballerina, I remember going (or often dragging) myself to class, emotionally drained from whatever else had gone on that day or night before.  But the moment the pianist would play a chord on the piano, I would be transported to the present.  To my time in space.  I would feel the wood of the ballet barre under my hand and wake-up to where I was and what I was about to do.  I love that Derek took one sip of a whisky and knew exactly which piece of music he wanted to be listening to at that moment.  Is anyone out there exploring specific drams + songs?

WHISKY-PIPHANY (#3)

At one point during the ongoing conversation at our little table, Clay Gordon noted an interesting difference in how we experience chocolate verses whisky.  He said that whisky is often a very analytical experience, whereas when adults taste chocolate, our personal experiences with chocolate are rooted to emotional connections that we have had since childhood.

I never thought about my chocolate this way – and while I see his point (we all probably can’t remember our first bite of chocolate but can remember our first sip of whisky!) I will say that I think whisk(e)y is probably the spirit that most people have the strongest connection with emotionally.  I think many people, positively or negatively, consciously or unconsciously, have a historical association to whisky.  I’ve heard lots of people at my tastings say a variation of: “Oh I like/don’t like <fill in the blank> style of whisky because that’s what <fill in family member> use to drink and <fill in anecdotal story of smelling or tasting it as a child> which is why I think I like/don’t like whisky today.”

If you’d like to share your thoughts below, I’d be curious to hear from you on this point too.  Do you have a past memory or nostalgic feeling to whisky or any other spirit?  Do you think that influences your preferences now?

IN CONCLUSION…

Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this post!  I’m so proud of Josh – it was a remarkable evening.  I learned so much about chocolate (for another day!) and truly loved the pairings listed above.  I hope Josh continues with these events and that I’m able to attend many, many more!  THANK YOU, JOSH!

And now, for a little showing of just how fun of a night it truly was!

Clay had some dehydrated cacao fruit in his bag - which Susannah and I went crazy for!

Clay had some dehydrated cacao fruit in his bag – which Susannah and I went crazy for!

HearNo

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§ 10 Responses to Symphony of A Well Curated Tasting Event

  • Matthew says:

    Darn it, now I have to 1) go find a bunch of different recordings of the sextet to figure out which one I like best (I, too, am a recovering musician). And 2) I now have to go and pair whisk(e)y with Dvorak’s “From the New World” (perhaps my all-time favorite symphony). Thanks a lot, Allison!

  • G-LO says:

    Well well well! This certainly sounds like a FABULOUS night. If only I lived closer. You KNOW I’d have been there. Thanks for the vivid recap!

    All I can say is, WhiskyLive is fast approaching! Hopefully we’ll get to meet up with Josh at the Morgan Library for a quick tour and pre-game dram.

    Bravo Whisky Woman!

    Cheers!
    G-LO

    • Josh Feldman says:

      (G-LO, there will be some secret seriously monster drams waiting for you in NYC. Bring some empty sample bottles with you…)

      • G-LO says:

        Ohhhhh! Now I’m even MORE excited! All I can say is that if work F#@&S with my plans yet again, there will be hell to pay in Center City Philadelphia! The bosses have been warned. ;)

  • [...] PS—Read Allison’s beautiful take on the evening here.  [...]

  • Josh Feldman says:

    OMG – you got so much out that event, Allison (a whole lot more than I did – but perhap’s that’s to be expected). Thanks so much for sharing your deep insights. Perhaps modestly you forget to mention the peak emotional moment of the night: When I saw that there was going to be adequate time I pulled out a bottle of Brenne. Allison cautions the house that Brenne is a delicate flavor and that it’s actually not such a good idea to serve it after Ardbeg Uigeadail (a titanic heavily sherried peat MONSTER at cask strength – perhaps one of the most richly flavored whiskies in the world – a palate killer) and right before Balcones Brimstone – an even more titanic palate buster. But Brenne STOLE THE SHOW. The room exploded with excitement. Not just about the story, and about the beautiful woman who had created the brand sitting in their midst, but about how incredible the whisky tasted and how incredibly well it paired with Pacari 65% Manabi. It was a delicious and, frankly unanticipated pairing success. It was a spur of the moment thing – I hadn’t even tried it going in – but the lovely creamy floral bubble-gum esters and apricot tangerine citrus flavors locked in a sensuous French kiss with the luscious dark alkaline sweet of the rich dark Ecuadorian chocolate. Half a dozen people demanded on the spot to know where they could buy this astoundingly silky feminine and succulent drammage. Deep personal secret – of the two bottles I had on hand, I had selfishly chosen to share the cask #264 and keep the cask #257 to myself because in typical “color-ist” fashion I thought the #257, being a shade lighter, wouldn’t be as delicious. As amazing as the cask #264 is however, I thought the cask #257 might be even better. It was astounding. Anyway – the whole event was a huge success – but you guys were really having the time of your life at that back table with Clay. The rule clearly is: “having Chocolate? Bring Clay”. I’m jealous! I was too busy blathering on – and I missed some of the best fun at that back table with you guys!

    • Josh Feldman says:

      I confused the cask numbers in the previous comment (confused because the higher number was on sale earlier in time). I served the cask #264 – which was lighter than cask #257. Cask #257 was darker and a hair richer than the first I had tasted (cask #263). I assumed that cask #264 would be a step down – so that was the one I selfishly chose to share with the house at the event. Shiver my timbers, the lighter cask #264 – pale as it was – was incredibly richly flavored. Perhaps the best bit of Brenne I’ve tasted to date. They ALL are excellent – I’m talking minor cask variation here. The point was that I tricked myself by reading a book by its cover. Cask #264 is pale – but it’s exceedingly lovely. EXCEEDINGLY.

    • Noel Nitecki says:

      “The room exploded with excitement. Not just about the story, and about the beautiful woman who had created the brand sitting in their midst, but about how incredible the whisky tasted…” — This doesn’t surprise me at all. I don’t share my Brenne often, but when I do, it conquers the room.

  • Allison,

    Thank you for your insights. Will play closer attention to the chocolate I taste with whisky: Brenne, Glendronach Revival and Octomore Comus 4.2 come to mind as prime candidates.

    And thank you to Josh for leading this tasting.

    FYI, at the New Brunswich Spirits Festival last November Martine Nouet not only had chocolates designed for specific whiskies she also requested specific music to go with the whiskies and the chocolates. With eyes closed, it was quite an experience.

    Cheers,

    Emmett.

  • Susannah SB says:

    You know, I have no problem pairing music with other drinks: bourbon and bluegrass, gin cocktails and cool jazz, etc. But I’ve almost deliberately avoided music when drinking whisky because studies have shown that listening to music interferes with your other sensory abilities (notably taste and smell). And whisky is, so often for me, an intellectual exercise. I like to take my time and think deeply about it. (Hence, my favorite bar in Edinburgh was a so-called “old man bar” that avoided any music and turned the sound off the televisions: and made for an ideal whisky den. Even when crowded, I could “hear” my whisky.)

    All that said, if I had to pair whisky with anything—particularly if I were just drinking for pleasure and not intellectual pursuit—I think it would range from something like some poignant Vivaldi to artists less classical (Rufus Wainwright comes to mind!). Hmmm. I’ll have to get back to you on this after some experimentation…

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