Chocolate + Whisky Tasting at WhiskyFest 2007

In case you missed it, last week I shared some general musings on the first annual San Francisco WhiskyFest hosted by Malt Advocate. And as you can see from my first post, we tried quite a few whiskies.

Throughout the evening, there were numerous seminars offered to attendees, beyond the tastings on the main floor--from discussions on bourbon to the art of Japanese distilling. So, in the middle of drinking all that whisky (remember, these are very small tastes, and I generally only took a sip or two), we ventured upstairs to attend probably the most popular seminar of the evening, the Chocolate and Whisky Tasting. Fortunately, we snagged two seats before they started turning people away.

Laid out in front of us, on long rows of tables, were 5 glasses of whisky and 4 pieces of Scharffen Berger chocolate. After a rather tedious and far too detailed history of how chocolate is made (word of advice: know your audience) by the Scharffen Berger representative (not John Scharffenberger who was listed to appear) and a rousing, get-up-and-dance show put on by the highly entertaining whisky ambassador to The Dalmore and Laphroaig, we were finally able to get down and do some tasting.

First things first, we were introduced to each whisky and each paired piece of chocolate, and then asked to take a bite of the chocolate, and with it still in our mouths, to take a sip of whisky. Um. Yes. Mmmmmmm. Heaven.


Here's what we tasted, along with some tasting notes:

1) The Dalmore Cigar Malt + 82% extra dark chocolate
This whisky from The Dalmore distillery, located in the northern highlands of Scotland, is aged in sherry casks, and pairs beautifully with the darkest of Scharffen Berger's chocolate offerings. The chocolate was earthy, peppery, and fruity with hints of cherry.

2) The Dalmore 12 year + 70% bittersweet chocolate
This Dalmore whisky was aged in bourbon casks and was rich with vanilla and caramel, which paired nicely with the ripe fruity flavors in the bittersweet chocolate.

3) Laphroaig Quarter Cask + 62% semisweet chocolate
This whisky, from the Laphroaig distillery located on the island of Islay off the southwest coast of Scotland, is knows for it's bold peaty flavors. The quarter cask whisky is interesting because it is aged in bourbon casks, then finished in smaller quarter-sized casks, which gives it deeply woody flavors. The soft, citrusy notes in the chocolate were complemented by the tropical flavors in the whisky.

4) Laphroaig 10 year + 41% extra rich milk chocolate
This pairing came as a big surprise. We would never have thought to pair such a big, peaty whisky with a milk chocolate, but it works. The caramel flavors and smoothness of the chocolate balanced perfectly with the sweet smoke of the whisky.

5) Laphroaig 30 year + Cacao Antilles chocolate
This was the fifth glass of whisky on the table and was unaccompanied by a piece of chocolate. The chocolate was actually passed around the room so that participants could snap off a piece. This was the big special extra taste of the night, a 30-year-old Laphroaig which is supposedly only available here in the US, and has a very limited stock. Meaning it's pricey. It was paired with one of Scharffen Berger's new limited series chocolates, a 75% bittersweet chocolate using cacao from the Antilles region. The sweet, dry whisky, aged in sherry casks, was an excellent complement to the rich bitter chocolate.

All in all, even in my whisky haze, I learned quite a bit about whisky and it's love affair with chocolate. I hope next year they offer this again, and perhaps have a few sessions so everyone can enjoy it.

One more note...WhiskyFest is coming back to San Francisco next year and they've already announced the date: October 10, 2008. Lucky me, it's the night before my birthday. I guess I know what I'm getting for my birthday next year. About 50 sips of whisky. A word of advice though, buy tickets early because they did sell out this year.