Alwynne Gwilt, talks whisky and chocolate
Alwynne Gwilt aka Miss Whisky (@themisswhisky) talks us through the world of amazingly good chocolate and some cracking drams to go with them.
We attended the Midlands Whisky Festival (@midlandswhisky), read all about it here and had the wonderful opportunity to attend Alwynne’s Chocolate and Whisky Masterclass. Chocolate and Whisky, I am in!
It’s fair to say I was a little sceptical, but like Alice I was curious to find out more, could chocolate and whisky be perfectly matched? The short answer is yes, yes they can, for the long answer keep reading!
For those of you who aren’t as yet familiar with Miss Whisky (have you been living in a cave?), here’s a bit of background. Canadian born Alwynne, made the decision to come to England and was continuing her work as a journalist. Having fallen in love with whisky during a tasting at Milroy’s whisky shop in Soho in 2008, Alwynne continued on her quest to discover and learn about the ‘water of life’, buying a bottle for herself every birthday and Christmas. A change of job direction in 2011 saw her pondering her next career move and during a four-month bout of traveling she decided to return to England and delve into the world of whisky!
Alwynne works closely with Balvenie (a personal favourite of Alwynne’s) and holds many tastings herself.
Now back to the Masterclass. It was a sell out and then some! There was a really eclectic mix of people, different ages, the fervent whisky fans and the newcomers, those that were there for the whisky, those that were there for the chocolate and those that just simply wanted the chance to see Alwynne at work.
Alwynne began the class by explaining why whisky and chocolate making had so much in common, breaking it down to the similarities in production and explaining just how much of a range of aromas and taste could be found in good quality chocolate.
Alwynne explained that many people thought that whisky and chocolate just wouldn’t work, and cited Rachel Barrie, Master Blender for Morrison Bowmore, as the person that changed that perception, certainly for Alwynne, anyway.
So on to the Whisky, we had:
Tamdhu 10 paired with Francios Pirault – Criollo – 100% cocoa milk chocolate
Balblair 03 paired with Marou – Vietnam produced 78% cocoa dark chocolate
Aberlour 16yo paired with Valrhona – Noir Aragurani a Venezuelan produced 72% cocoa dark chocolate
Balvenie 14yo paired with Francios Pirault – Criollo – 45% cocoa milk chocolate
Bowmore 12yo paired with Menakao – A Madagascan produced 63% cocoa with cocoa nibs & Madagascan sea salt.
Alwynne talked us through a little of the history of the cocoa bean and then chocolate itself. The first reference to the cocoa bean is believed to be 1400BC in Honduras, where it was taken very much like a tea, this would have been very bitter but it was used for its stimulant properties. It wasn’t until the late 1500’s, early 1600’s it was taken more like the product we know today.
Good quality chocolate, like whisky changes depending on what region the cocoa bean comes from. And like whisky the way in which it is produced can vary greatly from one producer to another. Alwynne explained that with good quality chocolate the “conching time” is longer. So the cheaper chocolate bars will maybe only have five to six hours conching time. As this is not enough time to truly bring out the flavours many additives have to be added, including wax, soy lechin, caster oil and glycerine to name but a few, and don’t even get me started on where the vanilla flavouring comes from.
So what is conching? Well it’s the penultimate process in making chocolate. A conche is a container filled with metal beads, which act as grinders. The refined and blended chocolate mass is kept in a liquid state by frictional heat. Chocolate prior to conching has an uneven and gritty texture. The conching process produces cocoa and sugar particles smaller than the tongue can detect, hence the smooth feel in the mouth. The length of the conching process determines the final smoothness and quality of the chocolate. High-quality chocolate is conched for about 72 hours, lesser grades about four to six hours. So again, similar to the production of whisky, this is the equivalent of grinding the grist.
Now that you’ve had a bit of chocolate information let’s move on to how the chocolate and whisky worked together.
Tamdhu 10 – A very light Speyside malt, however this is spicy on the palate, fresh and drying with a slight bitter after taste. However, once the Francios Pirault – Criollo – 100% cocoa milk chocolate was introduced, then it really softened the bitter note, it brought out a more creamy texture to the whisky and took the edge of the pepper.
Balblair 03 – This was fresh with
lashing of damp oak on the nose. There was a strong hint of acetone, but on the palate it was all about vanilla, smooth, soft, stewed apples and warm hay. When Marou – Vietnam produced 78% cocoa dark chocolate was added to the mix the two really complemented each other. The bitter edge of the chocolate actually enhanced the fruitiness of the whisky. A great example of an already great whisky being raised just that little bit more by a fantastic pairing. In turn the Balblair 03 really helped bring more of the flavour out of the chocolate, making it a little more complex, somewhat sweeter with a greater depth.
Aberlour 16yo – This double cask matured whisky (ex bourbon and ex sherry) is full of flavour. There are so many notes on the nose that it’s like an olfactory assault. It’s earthy, like a lovely autumn day, touches of damp vegetation, a little vanilla and just a slight hint of warm chlorine and rubber. Think a packed indoor swimming pool. On the palate it was sweet from the vanilla and fruity, red currants, plums, strawberries, with a lovely touch of heather and honey blossom. When Valrhona – Noir Aragurani, a Venezuelan produced 72% cocoa dark chocolate was introduced the two married together to produce a richer, deeper, darker flavour, making this whisky a little Jekyll & Hyde. Deeper with earthier tones and bring a hidden nuttiness to the fore, almost taking the vanilla and turning this dram into something more bitter.
Balvenie 14yo (Caribbean Cask) – This whisky is finished in an ex rum cask. On the nose this is just stunning, all tropical notes, pineapple, banana, mango, vanilla, Demerara sugar and lashing of good quality rum and raisin ice cream. It doesn’t disappoint on the palate either, with those tropical notes promised on the nose, really shining through on to the palate. Once the Francios Pirault – Criollo – 45% cocoa milk chocolate is introduced, although it doesn’t alter the flavour much, it really does enhance it. All those tropical notes become that little stronger, each one easier to find on its own. You then discover a more lemon flavour that was hard to find without the chocolate and with it just a little more honey.
Bowmore 12yo – A robust ex bourbon matured whisky. Full of spice, with a lovely peaty, smoky, almost ashy nose. There’s plenty of the sea to detect, oily brine, a fantastic saltiness with just a touch of damp hemp. This was paired with Menakao – A Madagascan produced 63% cocoa with cocoa nibs & Madagascan sea salt through it. Now I have to be honest and say that I didn’t really care for this chocolate (although this was Stewart’s favourite) but when pair with the whisky it definitely intensified the flavours of the Bowmore. The salt became so much more tangible, the whole texture of the whisky changed, although you weren’t supposed to chew the chocolate, but rather let it melt, you actually wanted to chew it and the whisky too. If also really brought out the spicy heat in the whisky, instead of peppery it turned to hot chilli, leaving the palate tingling.
A really well thought out, interesting and informative class. Alwynne really knows her stuff when it comes to whisky and chocolate it would appear too. The class was relaxed and friendly and Alwynne was more than happy to take questions as we went along. There was so much information imparted about the chocolate (I could have written so much more here than I have), about the production methods, the history of the cocoa and of the company and regions themselves. Equally if you just wanted to go and enjoy the whisky and the chocolate that was ok too, there was never any pressure to participate, it was all about you finding your own niche within the class.
Does chocolate and whisky work as a pairing, yes, without a doubt it does. I had no idea as to the similarities between the production of chocolate and the production of whisky, and once you learn this you can see what a natural match they can be.
All the whiskies and chocolates picked were excellent pairing and this class had obviously been well researched. We really enjoyed this class and would highly recommend it.
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)