Wednesday, March 7, 2012

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On Whiskey Dinners

You want a whiskey dinner? Here's a whiskey dinner: Drink some Pappy Van Winkle, tuck into a dry-aged ribeye, and then, if you feel like it (and who wouldn't?), freshen up that Pappy with a finger or two more. Go to bed.

But that's just me.

I was interviewed recently for an article in the San Diego Union Tribune and asked what I thought about the trend of whiskey dinners. Oy vey, it's a trend now. What I didn't know what time of the interview was that two such dinners were in the works, either of which I would happily attend.

But I didn't have delicate words about the trend of pairing spirits with meals.
“Pairing spirits and wine with food is bogus,” Rowley claims. “It seems contrived (and) so subjective to personal tastes. Do you honestly believe you have the same palate of the chef or sommelier?”
This comes off as a touch more arrogant than I intended. In fact, I didn't mean to sound arrogant at all; I was shooting for a commonsense approach to drinking with meals, one that eschewed rigid pairings of wine, beer, or spirits with specific foods and only those foods. The quote above should more properly read:
Do you honestly believe you have the same palate as the chef, the sommelier, or the guy next to you?
This goes back to something I said before: listen to what the experts say — after all, presumably they have become experts through a great deal of experience — but follow your own gut. If your absolute favorite thing in the world to drink is Southern Comfort, then what do you care if it's appeal isn't universal? So what if experts advise champagne or vodka with caviar when what you want is an IPA? You run the risk of looking like a rube and you really should try the champagne or vodka, but if beer makes you happy with little salted fish eggs, so be it.

A more thoughtful approach to the Pappy Van Winkle dinner I proposed above, one that would give you greater bang for the buck, is to invite four or five friends over for dinner with instructions that everyone bring one unopened bottle of whiskey. What? You thought that because you're hosting, you don't have to bring a bottle? Nice try. Preferably, all the whiskeys are of the same general type, so you've got a clutch of bourbons, or ryes, single malts, or even white whiskeys so you can compare. No need to drink it all. Everyone takes home one bottle at the end of the night. Maybe each bottle goes home with the diner who brought it, maybe with someone else. This way, you and your friends taste a variety of spirits, learn about personal preferences, and maybe settle on some heretofore unknown favorites. Set a price limit ($20, $30, $100, whatever your budget allows) so nobody feels slighted or outgunned.

Alternately, take your whiskey education a bit further and attend a guided whiskey dinner. In San Diego, Nathan Bochler of Zanzibar Café is hosting a dinner revolving around the whiskeys of High West Distillery March 11 and Westgate Hotel is putting together a Whiskeys of the World pairing dinner March 30. Details are in the UT article.

Go. You might learn something.

And, a nod to those who do insist on certain pairings: Something really interesting happens with cured meats and Japanese whiskeys sampled sequentially. We'll save that for later.

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