Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Warming-up With Some Scotch and Chocolate!

I'm an honourary Scotsman. 

I lived in Scotland for an entire year while attending the University of Edinburgh for my postgraduate studies. Well... almost an entire year: I had to return to Canada a month early and finish my thesis here because I spent all of my money at the pubs. Let's just say I wholeheartedly embraced my host country's culture...

I also married into a Scottish family. The Fisher clan of Mornington Street (aka my wife Lisa's family) are proud Scots. Their patriarch, Ian Fisher, is in fact one of Stratford's leading bagpipers. You may know him as one of the bagpipers who pipes-in Stratford's swans as they return to the Avon River each spring, or as one of the kiltwearing pipers marching at the front of the Stratford Police Services Pipe Band.

Personally, I will never forget the image of Ian playing the bagpipes as he walked Lisa, arm in arm, up to our wedding ceremony. 

So when I discovered that there was going to be a Scotch and Chocolate tasting at Foster's Inn, I immediately signed up, and I knew exactly who to take with me! It was the perfect early Christmas present for my kiltwearing, bagpiping (and of course Scotch drinking!) father-in-law.

On Saturday, December 18, Ian, myself and about fifty other Stratford whisky lovers warmed-up at Foster's Inn by sampling a series of seven different types of fine Scotch. 

The Scotch enthusiast who led us on our tipple tour of Scotland was Esther Williamson Brown (pictured above, comparing tasting notes with Ian), who grew up in Fife and Dunbar but only discovered her love for her home country's famous distillate years after moving to Canada. 

There was more to this tasting than just savouring single malts, however. The Scotch selections made by Esther Brown were paired with chocolates chosen and presented by none other than Kristene Steed, the owner of Stratford's legendary confectionary Rheo Thompson Candies (pictured above). 

Esther and Kristene put together the pairings based on the flavour notes of their respective choices. No milk chocolate was to be found that afternoon: only the boldness of dark, slightly bitter, semi-sweet chocolates were able to stand up to the multilevel flavours of the Scotch varietals. The effects of the seven different combinations on the palate were complex, diverse, and very pleasant indeed. 

Esther gave us all a little Gaelic lesson, and we raised our glasses and wished each other slante mhath, or 'good health'. The first pairing was a Balvenie doublewood 12 year old single malt with a semi sweet bud consisting of 60% cocoa. The whisky reflected its Speyside origins in its honey and vanilla flavours with hints of the oak casks (once used for sherry) in which it was aged, and agreed eloquently with the nutty sweetness of the chocolate.

But it was the second Scotch - a 10 year old by Springbank - that really got Ian's attention. He experienced an explosion of smoky flavour he described as true excellence. Both of us were even more impressed when we tried it along with an orange peel chocolate bark from Rheo Thompson, the fruity flavours of which brought out the subtle citrus tones in the Scotch.  

As the samples progressed the room definitely got warmer - and louder! I enjoyed the crunchy, bittersweet Kenyan coffee  bean chocolate bark that was paired with the Famous Grouse blend. For our final offering, we all enjoyed Esther's own favourite Scotch, a peaty but floral 12 year old by the Highland Park distillery in Orkney, which combined beautifully with the nutty flavour of the almond bark chosen by Kristene. 

Ian and I left Foster's with a warm glow and parted ways to do some Christmas shopping. I don't know where he went, but for me it was straight to the LCBO & Rheo Thompson  Candies for the second half of his Christmas present: a bottle of Scotch from Springbank (the Highland distillery responsible for his favourite sample of the day), and some orange peel bark from Rheo Thompson!

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