Thursday 30 June 2016

The Balvenie whisky pairing dinner with Sam Simmons & DCS 1978 launch (Hong Kong)

Back in 2013 we were lucky enough to attend a dinner with The Balvenie's Global Brand Ambassador Sam Simmons - aka "Dr Whisky". The food was great, the whisky was fantastic (especially this one) but more than the food or whisky, Sam made the night a blast by being a genuine, funny, down to earth bloke (who just happens to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of whisky).

It was therefore not even something I had to think about when, two and a half years later, I was asked if I'd like to attend another dinner with Sam, this time in Hong Kong at new bar/restaurant Maison Eight. The answer was instantly a "yes!".

Sam was in town to launch the DCS Compendium, a selection of 25 bottles from The Balvenie to be released (in sets of 5) over the next 5 years, celebrating The Balvenie's five rare crafts and the incredible 54 year tenure of David Stewart, The Balvenie's Malt Master (who himself was in Hong Kong a year ago).

Whilst the entire Compendium Chapter 1 (at a retail price of £28,000) is not available in HK, one of the bottles has been made available - the 37 year old 1978 bottle, limited to a total of 140 bottles (90 to be sold individually).

We (unfortunately but understandably) were not able to taste the 1978, but we did enjoy a fantastic 5 course dinner, with courses paired with The Balvenie 12yo DoubleWood, 14yo Caribbean Cask, 17yo DoubleWood, 21yo PortWood and 30 year old, all of which we examined in-depth here.

Attendees included a mixture of people who had completed the Whisky Ambassador accreditation, and readers of the newly-launched Whisky Magazine HK & Macau (which happens to feature yours truly!)

Sam opened proceedings by explaining the night would be open and informal, and after telling us that "Handcrafted is a lovely BS word", which Sam mentioned he'd also seen used at Pizza Express at HK Airport, we knew we were in for a night without the marketing guff that sometimes accompanies these events.

Sam introduced each course/whisky pairing, always keeping it light and informal, taking input from the audience, and generally just ensuring everyone had a good time. When it comes to entertaining an audience (often with a wide range of whisky knowledge), you'd be hard-pressed to find a brand ambassador who does a better job than Sam.

The first course, grilled Haloumi, asparagus, semi-dried tomatoes and endives was simple yet the perfect entrée. The smokiness from the grilled Haloumi matched very well with the honied notes of The Balvenie DoubleWood 12yo, with the balsamic dressing also pairing nicely.

Next was sautéed forest mushrooms, madeira jus and chives, paired with The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14yo. The sweetness of the rum-finished Balvenie was toned way down with this pairing, with the mushrooms taking the fore and giving the whisky a more earthier, robust characteristic. Interestingly I even got a hint of bananas from the pairing!

Onto the mains and it was Roasted duckling, Armagnac sauce with ratatouille, paired with The Balvenie DoubleWood 17yo. An interesting dish this one, with many commenting they hadn't seen duck done this way before - very different to the usual slices of duck breast you see at restaurants like this.

The duck itself was delicious, though quite gamey. The 17yo DoubleWood toned down the gaminess, while the duck added a mouth-filling viscosity that wasn't there with the whisky on its own. An interesting and unexpected pairing.

Next it was time for dessert (Orange almond cake with "exotic" honey) and what better whisky to pair with a dessert than The Balvenie PortWood 21yo? Many said this was their pairing of the night, with the sweetness of the orange cake complimenting the equally (though differently) sweet notes of the PortWood.

During this course, Sam made the interesting comment that Balvenie don't have a "core" product between 21 and 30yo, so it's a pretty safe bet that most of the PortWood 21yo out there is carrying some much older whisky inside - in some cases even up to 29 years old. Of course we know distilleries do this, but a lot of distilleries have an intermediary core offering between 21 and 30 years old - The Balvenie doesn't (the 25yo single cask and triple cask releases not withstanding).

Last, but certainly not least came the petit fours - chocolate cake and nougat matched with the always-delightful The Balvenie 30 year old. This proved another excellent match, though for me the winners were the first and fourth course pairings.

With the meal finished, Sam stuck around to share a few more drams with attendees (including a bottle of Wolfburn someone had snuck in) - again proving his genuine love of whisky.

All up a hugely enjoyable night - as I knew it would be!

Martin. would like to thank Sam and Telford International Co Ltd for the invite to this fantastic dinner.

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