Unlike wine, whisky is not to be swirled before sniffed. That agitates the alcohol, and overpowers the subtler aromas. Rather, you should rotate the glass to wet the sides and increase the breadth of the flavor coating, for a fuller aromatic experience.
There were numerous of such flavors and aromas to savor last night at Empire Steak House in Manhattan. Boasting an extensive Scotch menu, the restaurant was a fitting venue for a dinner of food/whisky pairings featuring spirits from two prestigious Scottish distilleries: Highland Park and The Macallan.
Brand Ambassador Craig Bridger and other hosts started us off with an Old Fashioned, made with the Highland Park 12yr. “This is a Scottish twist on an American invention,” Bridger said. The peaty, smoky whisky was up front and present in this high-ABV cocktail — which was just fine with me.
Next was The Macallan 12yr. “A spirit that stirs the hearts of whisky connoisseurs,” Bridger said. The oily texture and slight nuttiness of this classic were welcome accompaniments to the jumbo shrimp and fresh, smooth, gritless oysters on the half shell.
Seafood remained the theme for the next course. Broiled Norwegian Salmon, Maryland crab cake and sautéed spinach came out with The Macallan 15yr. A more delicate, balanced aperitif, this spirit matures in sherry- and bourbon-seasoned casks. This softer Scotch paired naturally with the lightness of the seafood, bringing out the butternut flavor of the salmon.
The fourth course — besides being where my stomach first suspected it might burst — was grilled chicken and linguini alfredo. The chicken was good, the alfredo sauce deliciously creamy, and the pasta cooked perfectly. The accompanying spirit was also quite memorable: the Highland Park 15yr, a lovely blend between smoky and sweet.
Next up was dry-aged filet mignon and German potatoes, paired with Highland Park’s Dark Origins. This nutty, double-casked spirit boasted flavors of dark chocolate and dried cherries. At 47 proof, Dark Origins packed quite a punch — and was a bit much for me. Its robust flavor and alcohol kick, however, paired naturally with the concentrated flavor of the tender, dry-aged filet.
For the final course, waiters brought out rich chocolate lava cake, along with the Highland Park 18yr. “We had to retire this one from whisky competitions to give other spirits a chance,” Bridger said. Throughout the room, tasters nodded knowingly.
This whisky contains a little bit of everything a drinker desires: mature oak and smoky aromas, creamy flavors of vanilla, honey and peat, and a soft, round, lengthy finish. It “pops” in your mouth, and leaves you warmly, fully satisfied — like the best dessert.
The evening concluded with a Brugal 1888 tasting— a sweet, oaky rum, aged 8-12 years total in White American and used-Mcallan Spanish sherry casks — and a hand-rolled cigar from Arthur Avenue Cigars.
Photos provided by Rubenstein Public Relations.