Red wine with beef, white wine with chicken, but how about discovering the perfect single malt whisky to accompany a bacon roll?
They do things differently in Speyside, and at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival taking place from April 30 to May 4, the quest will be on to find the best malt to savour alongside that most tasty of snacks, the bacon roll.
With Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink 2015 well underway, Mike Lord, owner of malt emporium The Whisky Shop Dufftown and inventor of the competition, says there is no better time than to match the perfect companions.
“Pairing whisky and food is a great experience,” Mike says. “The two combine to emphasise flavours in each and sometimes create new ones.
“This tasting was an idea to show people in a relaxed way how this works and get them interested in pairing whisky with food.
“It’s less intimidating than going to a whisky dinner for instance, particularly for people who are new to whisky. It’s something they could do themselves.
“And you know what? It really works. The look of surprise on people’s faces when they try the different whiskies and discover the way the flavours change is a whole lot of fun.
“Whisky is a great accompaniment to food. So is wine. Just mix it up a bit and see what happens.”
The roll is buttered and the bacon is unsmoked. No sauce or other condiments or additions are allowed – this is about testing which whisky goes best with bacon, not ketchup or brown sauce.
And there are no hard and fast rules around what might be the best dram to complement the bacon roll, explains Mike.
“It really is trial and error, and everyone’s tastes are different. We have never done a pairing in which no one found it the best. It really emphasises that there is a whisky for everyone and everyone has their whisky. “
The contest goes a long way to dispel the myth that pairing food and alcohol is just for fine dining – or that it’s only wine that goes well with food.
Last year’s winner - the Benriach 20-year-old, a well-balanced yet complex whisky - has come out on top for two consecutive festivals in a row and is the only malt to hold the honour. Tasters found that its flavour emphasised the bacon, while its honey, vanilla and apple aspects were all part of the winning elements.
Previous champions have been Tomintoul 16, Glenfiddich 14, Old Pulteney 12 and Cragganmore 12. This emphasises that it is the lighter whiskies that are also complex that seem to win out. Peated whiskies do not seem to work with bacon for the majority of people.
As for the challengers that will be seeking to topple Benriach 20 from its pedestal, Mike has a few ideas, and is waiting to see what new releases come out in time for this year’s annual celebration.
“I definitely have a couple in mind already but I cannot say what they are - this is a blind tasting. People should not be influenced by knowing what whiskies are in front of them. This is science after all,” he says.
But is devouring a delicious bacon roll the best remedy for the morning after the night before? Mike, whose passion for drams saw him give up a career in financial services in the City of London to take over The Whisky Shop Dufftown in the heart of malt whisky country, has his own thoughts.
He believes that the best way to wake up full of vitality and energy and all set for the day ahead is simply by being in Speyside at festival time.
“The best pick me up is the buzz you get from being part of the festival,” he says. “Talking to people about what you did yesterday and what you are going to do today; the new friends you have made; and of course the new malts that you have discovered at The Whisky Shop Dufftown.”
The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival takes place from April 30 to May 4, 2015. Visit www.spiritofspeyside.com to buy tickets and follow the Festival at www.facebook.com/WhiskyFestival or www.twitter.com/spirit_speyside.