Forty years is a long time for a whisky to be ageing in a cask. It means that a lot more has been lost to the angel’s share (that’s what evaporation of the whisky while in the cask is called), and the spirit might have absorbed a little too much wood flavours to be good. So as you can imagine, good 40-year-old whiskies are quite hard to come by.
So when The Singleton invited us for a food pairing dinner at Enfin by James Won, Kuala Lumpur, it was to my delight that one of the whiskies we would be tasting that night was a Singleton Of Glen Ord 40-Year-Old.
The Singleton is a brand Diageo uses to showcase the distilleries in its Scotch whisky portfolio, of which the company has 50 in total, with the Glen Ord expression exclusive to Malaysia and Taiwan. The Glen Ord distillery has been operating since 1838, and one of the signatures of the whisky is that it uses an equal percentage of American Oak casks and European sherry oak casks.
For the pairing, French-trained chef James Won created a menu based on one word: purity. “That’s what we want to express between the liquid and the food. I deliberately paired each dish with Singleton of Glen Ord neat,” Won said. “The liquid is very elegant and soft, so I attempted something I have never done before, which is to pair the entire menu to go with a whisky that is not diluted.”
The unique nature of the menu was apparent from the get-go – the menu said the amuse bouche was an oyster dish, but there was no oyster to be found. Instead, we got a dainty dish of oyster leaves – one prepared raw, and one fried with lemon butter, duck pancetta and crumbs. When paired with the relatively fruity Singleton of Glen Ord 12 Year Old, the whisky drew out the subtle oyster-like flavours nicely, giving it an even fresher flavour profile.
The unusualness of the pairings continued on to the entrees – the first one was a charred leak flavoured tuna, with caviar and apples and a hint of roselle, and the ulam raja.
Paired with the Singleton of Glen Ord 18-Year-Old, the sweeter fruity pear notes of the whisky went well with the apples and raw fish combo, with the briny saltiness of the caviar giving it a more balanced palate of flavours. The ulam raja added a different dimension to this pairing – the slightly bitter herb drawing out some subtle peat notes from the whisky.
According to Won, he tried to give each dish in the menu a charred element to draw out the oakiness of the barrel, and give us a more heightened experience.
“With a single malt like Singleton, I find it can be quite sweet. So I like something burnt and charred to break it down a bit. The whisky has a lot of undertones, and I’m trying to bring that out more,” said Won.
The second entrée, sea urchin, complemented a Parmesan and quinoa infused fennel porridge, was even more unusual – it was inspired by Won’s love for cereal, of all things. The cereal-like elements of the yoghurt, the dairy elements, the fun, crunchy “snap crackle pop” as you take a bite … it was as if we were at the breakfast table, digging into our favourite cereal.
Paired with the Singleton of Glen Ord 15-Year-Old, it brought out the grainy flavours of the otherwise sweet, fruity whisky. It was definitely one of the oddest pairings I’ve ever had, as it appealed to both our palate and sense of nostalgia at the same time.
As the meal progressed, the flavours from both the food and whiskies grew bigger and bolder. The third entrée was a wonderful marron bisque garnished with seaweed, strawberries and toasted walnuts, paired with The Singleton of Glen Ord 18-Year-Old for a combination that highlighted the peatiness of the whisky, and accentuating the richer, malty chocolate notes as well.
For the main dish, we had a choice of chicken or beef, and I went with the latter – a Margaret River Wagyu served with charred shallot confit and broccoli puree with pomme souffle, and paired with the Singleton of Glen Ord 18-Year-Old as well. Whisky and beef has always been one of my favourite pairings, and happily, with the vibrancy of the 18YO went well with the earthy truffle notes of the dish.
Then, it was time to taste the 40-Year-Old. The oldest and rarest single malt the distillery has bottled in over 170 years, there are only 999 bottles of this whisky worldwide.
It was well worth the wait – if you love raisins, you’ll love this. The scent of raisins is just so prominent on the nose, with rich, dark fruit flavours coming through as well. On the palate, the dark fruits carry through, with some drier sherry notes in the middle, and a light hint of vanilla, toffee and peat, before finishing with another burst of raisins, peat and caramel.
The whisky was the only one Won did not pair his food with, because he wanted the guests to savour the liquid on its own. “Because it is so scarce, I did not dare do anything with it. I don’t think I can do it justice. That’s how precious this bottle is. This is truly one whisky that deserves to be enjoyed on its own,” he said.
It’s not every day that Michael Cheang gets to try a whisky that is as old as he is. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page (www.facebook.com/mytipsyturvy) or follow him on Instagram (@mytipsyturvy).