Finding the perfect match between a wine and a dish is easy when you are French with all the grape varieties available. But getting a perfect match between whiskies and food is a little more difficult.
To do this, the appointment is made in the north of Ile de France. Direction in the Vexin forest between Baillet in France, Beaumont and L'isle l'Adam in a restaurant specialized in French-Scottish meals: O'Brothers.
We go there with my brother (whom we will call Ri C here for anonymity). The restaurant is lost in the forest. When we arrive on the spot we find ourselves in front of a charming mill with a small green pond on the left. We enter the restaurant on the wall with a picture of the two brothers in question and a quote "the one who seeks logic in the depths of the human soul is crazy".
We take a table right next to the fireplace and look at the menu. Not much information, just a few lines: Brad Peat, Braveheart, Speycial, Saint Patrick, French Guy, Rising Sun, John Wayne. No more information. You'll have to go blind and trust this restaurant with two gold trolls in the warm table guide.
Courageous, we ask the waiter in a kilt to take us to the peat fields (remembering the words, now in Ri C's common language: "I'm not very peaty! "): this will be the Brad Peat menu.
Without saying a word, the mysterious kilt waiter returns a few seconds later with a bottle without a label, but filled with a light straw yellow liquid. However, since the bottle is the original one, we can easily recognize its shape. On the neck engraved in the glass "COMPASS BOX".
When the liquid reaches the bottom of our stemmed glasses, there is no need to be mistaken, as the peaty scents come out so much. We will attack with a PEAT MONSTER as a appetizer.
Okay, the menu is called Brad Peat and we're getting peat.
When our nose dives into the glass it is invaded by the scents of alcohol (46° all the same) but with a bottom of fruits from the orchard. When, for the second time, our nose plunges into the glass, it is now invaded by notes of smoke, peat, tar. We are projected on the southern coasts of the island of Islay with the marine scents that come in behind.
John Glaser announces peat with his monster but he keeps his promise by mixing whiskies from island distilleries such as LAPHROAIG, CAOL ILA or LEDAIG, but also others just as peaty from Highlands such as ARDMORE, CLYNELISH, TEANINICH and DAILUAINE.
Obviously, the purpose of this "appetizer" is to prepare our palate. Indeed, when the liquid reaches our palate it brings with it flavours of smoke, spices, liquorice and even iodine. Once swallowed, it leaves sweet peaty and spicy notes. What an attack.
But how are we going to find something that masks what our mouth has just been through? The man in the kilt is going strong.
Moreover, as we have just finished our glasses, he comes back to see us with two magnificent medallions of foie gras (we are in France anyway) with a fig compote and a few crystals of fleur de sel de Guérande.
We had already had the opportunity to associate this starter with a whisky (see BUNNAHABHAIN CRUACH MHONA tasting) but the one we had chosen, although powerful, was not peaty.
Our friend in kilt is back with two new stemmed glasses and a new smoked bottle but still without a label. We are not mistaken here either. The capital "A" engraved on the bottle betrayed it. We are in the presence of an elixir of youth: a PORT ASKAIG.
Today, with foie gras it will be 100° PROOF.
We understand the scheme, we will hide the peat of PEAT MONSTER by the power of PORT ASKAIG: 57.1° anyway!
While it had been masked by the dark colour of the bottle, the liquid that comes out of the bottle and reaches the bottom of our glasses is very clear and even pale.
But make no mistake about the "natural color" style, it often masks its play and when you plunge your nose into the glass, it is to take full advantage of the powerful marine aromas. It's like being on the beach facing the island of Jura harvesting seaweed.
These beautiful smells would certainly go with a salmon (from Scotland of course) but today it will be with foie gras.
In reality, the mixture between the two aromas takes place in the mouth. On one side the sweetness and mellowness of foie gras from southwestern France and on the other side the salt and smoke from southwestern Scotland. Alchemy operates. Sweet and sour aromas overwhelm our senses. A progressive sensation of honey taste, sweet fruits and lemon finish.
This mixture deserves nothing else and when our plate is finished we find the fig jam and the grains of salt that were not necessary because this whisky had a marine character.
Another effect of this Islay whisky is to dry out the mouth a little and clean it from the first peaty ravages. Certainly it remains surrounded by smoke but we feel ready to continue the adventure.
The man in a kilt makes his appearance again and now brings us a plate with a Hachi Parmentier of duck confit accompanied by a salad. We're going to stay in the southwest, but where are we going to go to Scotland?
His return announces it to us but from now on, the bottle (still without label) decorated with a disc with a deer only announces the origin of the bottler. It will be a bottle from GORDON & MACPHAIL, but what's in it?
The colour of the liquid is more yellow than the first two bottles.
When it reaches our glass, the aromas of peat are present but a softer and sweeter impression than the first two glasses reaches our nostrils. It won't be easy to find the origin of this whisky.
Finally, our host finally talks to us to announce that we are in the presence of a 12-year-old LEDAIG (dear to our group of friends) from the Isle of Mull.
Here again the Brothers were right, because the peated aromas of this whisky are combined with sweeter flavours of fruit but also caramel cake and the final blend perfectly with the sweetness of the confit. Again, this is a success.
Moreover, LEDAIG also blends very well with a good powerful cheese such as the blue of the Causse or a good epoisses flowing as desired.
The cheese is just finished and we are already looking forward to dessert and especially to seeing what our friend in kilt has in store for us.
So it is impatient that we see him come back a little later with a chocolate opera (sweet chocolate mousse on a bed of cookies). It is obvious that peat often goes well with chocolate.
Our host returns with a new bottle without a label, but once again, we recognize the shape of the bottle: a good old BIG PEAT from DOUGLAS LAING.
However, we are a little surprised by the colour, which is a little darker (but just a little bit darker) than usual. Seeing that he was unmasked, our man tells us that this is the 10th anniversary version.
There is no mistake about it and the devastating effect is always there. Dip your nose into the glass and take a right hook directly on it (like Pete on the label when it is present). We feel all the processes of using peat, passing from the green humidity of the peat bog, the drying of the millenary earth but also the smoke it releases when it is slowly consumed.
We wanted peat... we got it on this meal finale.
In the mouth the mixture of chocolate and tanned leather works wonders. Tastes come and go from roasted cocoa beans to peat, to cake baked on the barbecue, to a boudoir tasted in front of the cold ashes of an extinguished fire... it's the explosion.
Once swallowed, we find ourselves alone with the smell of barley and chocolate but especially with a smoky mouth.
What a trip and what a meal. We had already been led to link dishes to whiskies but no longer on the basis of choice linked to a brand (whisky dish agreements proposed by DIAGEO with Lagavulin, Talisker, Oban, Cragganmore, knockando...) more than to a real feeling.
Our host comes back to us one last time and in front of our cheerful heads, seems happy with its effect.
It is then that with a broad smile that he says to us "do you want an OCTOMORE to digest? » ……..