Sit back, pour yourself a dram and join us on a phenomenal flavour journey as Keith Trusler, Canadian Brand Ambassador, relives an exceptional whisky weekend in Whistler.
Epiphanies sometimes come in unexpected guises. Mine came in the form of a bread pudding.
It wasn’t any old bread pudding. It was a Pemberton cauliflower and rye bread pudding with Alpindon cheese, black truffle jam and thyme. Paired with The Glenlivet 18 Year Old.
The epiphany occurred during a sumptuous six-course whisky pairing dinner in Whistler. Once a year we take a small group of single malt lovers up to this beautiful resort town. Whistler is in the mountains about two hours away from us here in Vancouver. We spend a couple of days there fly fishing for pink salmon from the crystal-clear waters of British Columbia and indulging in fine food and even finer drink.
The highlight of the trip is the final The Glenlivet whisky pairing dinner. The talented Nick Cassettari, executive chef of Whistler hotspot Alta Bistro, creates the menu and does the cooking. Nick specialises in using the best local and seasonal ingredients.
Just like classic pairings with wine – Champagne and caviar, Chablis and oysters, Bordeaux and lamb – whisky has its own successful matches. Rich, sweet single malts with smoked salmon, for example, and peaty drams with dark chocolate. These are tried and trusted pairings that work all around the world.
Nick and I wanted to go one step further and pair The Glenlivet with regional ingredients. Whistler has great farms with sustainably reared livestock and wonderful vegetables. Nick was thrilled at the challenge. It was the second time he had come offsite from his bistro to cook for us and he felt he could let his imagination run wild.
He experimented and taste-tested, sometimes being blown away by the great results, other times going back to the drawing board to start again. Finally, he settled on his dishes.
For the starter, we paired roasted smoked sable fish with parsnip and vanilla cream, whiskey gelée, maple and orange with The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve. The dish beautifully picked up the key flavours in Founder’s Reserve: vanilla and orange. Everyone at dinner thought these two flavours were a perfect match for the lovely oily fish, lifting it with a clean, citrusy tang and the sweet, woody perfume of vanilla. It was a sumptuous start to the evening. Everyone was excited to see what would follow.
Next up we served a charcuterie board with some local delights, such as duck sausage and cured meats. We paired this with The Glenlivet 15 Year Old. The sweet fruit notes and spiciness of the whisky worked brilliantly with the beefy, gamey flavours. This pairing proved that the 15YO is a single malt that can really stand up to the strongest flavours.
Next came the bread pudding and The Glenlivet 18 Year Old, the source of my epiphany. After a forkful of the pudding, my sip of 18YO suddenly tasted different. It was the thyme in the dish; it had brought to life the peppery, woody flavours in the 18YO that I had not picked up before. I looked around me and everyone else at the table was equally silenced. The dish had unlocked savoury notes that none of us – all accomplished bartenders and foodies who know flavour – even knew were there. The pairing changed how everyone perceived this classic expression. It was a revelation.
The feedback we got was that it was the best whisky dinner the guests had ever had and one of their best dinners ever. Period.
I think that chefs sometimes surprise even themselves when they take chances and it works. Instead of the food taking a backseat to the whisky – as can happen in whisky pairing dinners – this meal showcased both Nick’s and Master Distiller Alan Winchester‘s talents brilliantly.
The weekend was a great success. We all learned a lot, which is one of the most exciting things about whisky – there’s always something new to learn. I can’t wait to see what new epiphanies this year’s trip to Whistler will bring.