It was all in the name of science, possibly medical science and some might have even said for medicinal purposes.
‘Savouring Sensory Science’ was one of the many events taking place at this year’s Dundee Science Festival. Organised by Ewan Henderson, founder of ‘Scotch Broth Events’, it explored the science of taste though an innovative way of pairing whisky with food.
The fascinating multi sensory journey promised ‘ marrying malts and molecules‘ and ‘drams with dramatic pairings’.
The event and the food pairings brought together a number of good quality Scottish and local food producers to be matched with whiskys from local distillers. ‘Glencadam‘ from Angus Dundee Distillers, and ‘Cutty Sark’ from nearby Perth.
The food included ingredients from Mackays, the Dundee based marmalade producer, Arbroath Smokies from Iain R Spinks , local herb specialists ‘Scotherbs‘ and Perthshire based rapeseed oil producer, ‘Summer Harvest Oils’. There was fresh produce from nearby Frasers fruit and vegetables and from further afield, Arran Cheese and smoked mussels from Kintyre Smokehouse
Drinks were poured and the experimental journey began with the first port of call to an old sea fairing friend, ‘Cutty Sark’. The ‘Spirit of Adventure’ meeting Dundee, ‘City of Discovery’ in a ‘Dundee Maltijo’ cocktail, served with a degree of sophistication in a Mackays marmalade jar.
A rich and exotic start, the cocktail was a mix of Cutty Sark ‘Storm’, Mackays marmalade, ginger and hints of vanilla from a dried vanilla husk. The husk perhaps a reminder of distant sea travels.
The ‘Dundee Maltijo’ was paired with an elegant Arbroath Smokie mousse cone, finished with an unusual topping of popping candy. The Smokie flavoured mousse, matched perfectly with the sweetness and rich flavour of the cocktail, Cutty Sark ‘Storm’, adding great depth of delicious flavour. On the palate, ‘Storm’ promised, sweet, ripe stone fruit, peaches and cream – layers of complexity and attractive velvet texture. As a novice whisky drinker and completely new to pairing food with whisky, it was a perfect start to the event, and very different to any previous experiences of wine and food pairings.
Ewan spoke at length about the science of taste and invited the audience to test their taste buds using a ‘super taster’ test strip to determine whether or not they fell into the ‘super taster’ category.
Being a super taster relates to the quantity of of taste buds on the tongue and has been correlated with the intensity at which individuals taste most things. For the super taster, salt will be saltier, sweet is sweeter and like wise with bitter, much more intense.
A second small experiment with a jelly bean, helped the audience to understand why 70% of taste is through our nose. It felt quite strange, pinching your nose and sucking a jelly bean, but it proved the point.
There was an interesting discussion around some of the myths surrounding whisky, and of course we were quickly debunking some of those, particularly, ‘It’s not as complex as wine’ and ‘It is not food friendly’.
Before moving on to taste the selection of malts, Ewan talked about the effect of wood on the flavour of the whisky, describing the different finishes and the perfect parings with certain foods.
This was the point where I began to understand and appreciate the different finishes and the marrying of food with whisky. For those who wanted to alter the tasting experience, there was the option to add cold green tea or water to the whisky. A strange combination possibly, but did you know, that adding green tea to whisky is the favourite way to drink scotch in china. Showing the spirit of a true Scot, I opted to drink mine neat.
First pairing was a 10 year old Glencadam malt, accompanied by a ‘Smoking Jacket‘, a smoked mussel tapenade crostini. This was a real winner on flavour and despite being a novice, I enjoyed trying different ways to experience the changes in flavour. A mouthful of whisky and the smokiness of the tapenade together, yes I could see and taste how they were a good match. Drinking the whisky alone and then having a mouthful of the tapenade, well that gave a different taste and a much nicer flavour.
I was learning quickly.
The next pairing, was ‘Sugar and Spice’, ‘ Irn Bru’ pulled pork with an ‘Irn Bru’ syrup on toasted soda bread, and a 12 year old Glencadam Portwood finish. This whisky is described a ‘the rather refined malt with a beautiful round, true flavour’. On the nose it has an elegant balance and port sweetness’. Not a description I would apply to the other national drink. Again, the whisky was nice when drank separately from the food. Tasting the ‘Irn Bru’ pulled pork without the whisky, I felt it was rather too sweet.
However, eating and drinking both together completely changed the flavour of the pork and I could see how this dram and it’s dramatic pairing complemented each other perfectly.
The Glencadam 15 year old malt was next. On the palate it promised ‘juicy cut grass freshness with a mouthwatering malty signature. Restrained sweetness caressed by soft oak’.
It was accompanied by a delicious warm ‘Alba Aranci’ ball. Haggis with coconut, rice, cheese and nutmeg. If there was a marriage made in heaven at the event, then this was it for me. The whisky was very different and much lighter than any I had previously tasted and combined with the sweet and savoury flavour of the food, it really was sensational.
The final whisky was a Glencadam Olrosso finish, described as ‘The rather enriched malt, with a beautifully sophisticated, rich flavour’. On the palate it promised ‘Floral and spicy with a sophisticated mix of vanilla and sherry sweetness’. This was paired with ‘Panache Ganache’, a dark chocolate and blue cheese ganache tart, topped with rosewater caviar. For me this was quite a strong flavoured whisky, but it was matched perfectly with an equally strong food. It married well with the bitterness of the chocolate ganache and the two together produced a delightful mellow flavour.
The final part of the event was described as ‘Flavour Tripping’. It sounded strange and to be honest to start with it did seem a bit strange. Reminding myself, I was on a scientific journey, I happily popped the fruit tablet to take my palate, as Ewan described, on a journey to somewhere it’s never been before.
Once the tablet had dissolved, it was on to the final taster plate, which unlike the nights previous food offerings, looked a little unappetising.
Lemon, lime,grapefruit, salt and vinegar crisps, Guinness and gooseberry wine. Not really an appealing plateful, but it was offering a taste journey like no other. Ewan went on to explain how experiments like this have influences in the food industry. What happened next was quite remarkable.
Biting into the lemon was a pleasant and sweet experience. No bitterness, no screwed up faces, just not what I expected. It was the same result with the lime and the grapefruit. Working my way through the plate, delivered similar results, the salt and vinegar crisps had no vinegar taste, just a nice mellow flavour. The gooseberry wine bordered on being a dessert wine and surprisingly the Guinness had completely lost it’s depth of flavour. What should have been sour, was tasting sweet. This was the effect of the ‘Miracle Fruit’ tablet. Sweetness without the added sugar. It’s easy to see where this will fit with the food industry, constantly under fire for the levels of sugar in food.
The event also included a ‘hi tec’ element, using the new ‘Showmappr’ app, an exciting way to share connections at shows and events. A mystery malt was poured and the audience were invited to scan the qr codes on display to record their choice.
Food and drink brings people together. It’s a way of sharing and being sociable. ‘Savouring Sensory Science’ did all of those. Tastes in food were discussed, favourite drinks were chatted about and we ended where we started. One for the road and a night cap of another ‘Dundee Maltijo’ cocktail. Cheers, from a night of spirit and adventure.
Find out more.
The science of taste and food and drink events – www.scotchbrothevents Follow on Twitter@aNipandTuckin & FacebookScotch Broth Events
www.dundeesciencefestival.org Follow on Twitter @DundeeSciFest & on Facebook Dundee Science Festival
www.cutty-sark.com Follow on Twitter @cuttysarkblend
www.glencadamwhisky.com Follow on Twitter @GlencadamWhisky & Facebook Glencadam Single Malt Whisky