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Cask Force – Dalmore vs Alajmo: the challenge

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[Marco Zucchetti is back, sacrificing himself for us on the luxury altar: this time he attended a 3 Michelin Stars lunch paired with one of the post famous whiskies in the world… Poor guy…]

When a friend sends you a text like “Hi, d’you wanna come to Le Calandre restaurant for a lunch with Dalmore pairing?”, you reviews in a heartbeat all the whisky&food pairings you had in your life. Ballantine’s after a cold pizza, miserable sandwiches after that last dram, tastings with holy crackers to avoid hangover… Once the shock wears off, within three seconds you have agreed and – if your soul was worth something – you would have sold it already without a shred of remorse.

Ok, we know we look upstart, getting excited for these trifles. But we simply don’t care, we are proud to be simple guys and even more proud to write about this sophisticated gourmand experience. Thanks to Davide Terziotti and Whisky Club Italia for that blessed text message.

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The Dalmore distillery is renowned all over the world, but Italian enthusiasts snub it a bit, perhaps for its choice to bottle almost every expression at 40% ABV. This policy doesn’t preclude a nice range of rich aromas, intense enough to handle a food pairing. Since several years – thanks to Richard Paterson, the Scotch’s Kim Kardashian – the brand has been taking the luxury path: priceless 50 yo bottlings, partnerships with the most glamourous chefs, events in the most exclusive bars of the world. And a serie of meals in 3 Michelin Stars restaurants, showing how the deer’s malt is completely comfortable with complex recipes.

Paolo Gargano, whose Fine Spirits imports it in Italy, organized with Claudio Riva from Whisky Club an incredible derby: Dalmore vs Massimiliano Alajmo, the youngest ever chef to have been awarded by the 3 Stars Michelin and firmly between the best 50 chefs in the world. And last week a happy group of lucky guys went to Sarmeola di Rubano (Padova). Here a report on the day, the dishes, the pairings. We despise ourselves…

Dalmore 12 yo (2018, OB, 40%)

Roasted scallops with oysters and pistachio sauce

The entry level whisky is suddenly very appreciated. Pleasant notes of caramel, dark honey and praline of this sherry finish malt may have very few in common with seafood. Anyway, scallops are gorgeously sweet, so the pairing is surprisingly spot-on. Probably the only thing not completely convincing is the salad. You try finding a whisky to pair with salad! The distillate is soft, the orange note spreads everywhere, avoiding any sticky sensation of molasses. Actually, it’s lively and fresh. The low abv makes it super-easy to drink, nose and palate are consistent. Some cinnamon biscuits, too. With scallops? Yes, indeed. 84/100 the whisky, 8/10 the pairing.

Dalmore Port wood reserve (2018, OB, 46.5%)

Crunchy snails, ricotta and mushrooms dip

We already confessed that we’re simple guys, so we admit that we’d have devoured a whole pan of this. But we must say that amongst all the pairings, this is the least successful, because Port finish is a wild beast and Dalmore’s spirit can’t tame it, either: it’s the less exciting of all. On the nose is alcoholic but opulent, with cherries in brandy and wild strawberries. Figue, dried papaya and marshmallows, but also something weird like Ikea pallets, glue and matches. Epiphany: the spicy, orangy flavor of an Old Fashioned. It’s a bit complicated on the palate, too. Rather roaring, concentrated orange juice and sweet, but suddenly turning dry and tannic (woodpaste and tobacco leaves). Bitter mint, super-infused tea, cocoa powder and strawberry candies in a long but not unforgettable finish. Revisable pairing, celestial snails. We tried it in pairing with the dessert: it’s better. 79/100 for whisky, 6/10 for pairing.

Dalmore King Alexander III (2018, OB, 40%)

Smoked tagliolini with egg yolk flakes

Why doesn’t the most expensive and complex malt come last? Surprising choice by Claudio Riva, a real stroke of genius: a structured dram for a structured dish. The pasta is topped by small jelly cubes of broth, which give an extra creamy texture and a wrapping mouthfeel, exactly like the whisky. Spirit and tagliolini share the same technical complexity of creation: a NAS with a sextuple finish in madeira, sherry, red wine, bourbon, port and marsala casks. Definetely not spontaneus, but increadibly tasty, with hints of orange, nougat and a delicious maltiness. Chocolate drips on our noses with a bold fruity side (stewed plums and raisins). On the palate is more winey, and the orange soul turn into Grand Marnier. Dragee orange peels, pecans and chocolate-chips tea biscuits for a baroque and people-pleasey malt. Despite the middle-short finish (nutmeg, oak and chocolate), it’s hard not to love it. Eventually, Mr. Paterson will tell us why that sparing 40% abv, which kneecaps King Alexander. Meanwhile, 86/100 for whisky and 10/10 for pairing.

Dalmore 15 yo (2018, OB, 40%)
Black lemon risotto, capers and coffee
Other dish, other sensory dilemma: what to pair with a risotto garnished with a fermented lemon that tastes like licorice? Well, one of the most solid whiskies of the core range, that 15 yo we often enjoyed in the past. The firminess is indeed the leitmotif of this dram, because it brings together all Dalmore’s hallmarks: orange, bitter chocolate, hazelnut, malt, fudge. On the nose it’s sticky toffee pudding, with warm chocolate and sweet licorice (does licorice cream actually exist?). It’s very aromatic, with notes of sandalwood and tea leaves, but the cereal is still the king: biscuits and raisin bread. There’s the usual problem of low abv, but it’s pleasant anyway. Toffee praline, brioche, cinnamon and coffee cream, but the sweet effect is well balanced by the oakiness. Salty hazelnuts towards the end, for a too short finish. Well, sipping a confectionary whisky eating risotto seemed a long shot, but coffee and licorice notes link everything together. 85/100 for whisky, 9/10 for pairing.

Dalmore Cigar malt reserve (2018, OB, 44%)

Pan-seared mallard with oysters sauce, eel, toasted seaweed and plums compote

The mallard is a lovely animal. And now that it swelled the rank of the multiple beasts we ate during our life, we can also say it’s even tasty. It’s certainly the most daring dish, mixing the game, the sauce’ seaworthiness and the sweetness of the compote. It makes sense to pair it with the most audacious whisky of the day, realized to pair with… cigars. A blend of ex bourbon and ex sherry casks, with a Cabernet Sauvignon finish, ideal for the meat. Less perfect is the impact of the malt, that shows a quirky nose riddled with fatty notes: loads of leather, cheese, buttered bread and a hint of damp tobacco. The other side of the moon is built on a thick sweetness of orange marmalade, toffee and rum soaked raisins, with a balsamic touch of pine resin. This herbaceous sensation continues in the mouth, where it becomes a little more spiced: aniseed, cloves and cardamom. The 44% abv really fits. The fruitiness is focused on red currant distillate and pink grapefruit. It turns a bit bitter, salmiak and dark chocolate. Super-dry finish, with again cardamom and grapefruit marmelade. Divisive malt, you may not like it. Nevertheless, food helps to smooth edges. 82/100 for whisky, 9/10 for pairing.

Dalmore 18 yo (2018, OB, 40%)

Reverse textures: Pandoro with chocolate and smoked tea, ice cream and smoked water jelly

The only pairing a mere mortal might have imagined it’s with a chocolate dessert, even less sophisticated. That’s why this is the less astonishing pairing. The 18 yo is the most austere of the group, with a stronger oak influence comparing to its younger brothers. On the nose is a bit shy and closed, with notes of old furniture and almonds, super-infused tea and damp earth. It needs time to open up and unleash a deep dried plums aroma, almost like a cognac. A scent of walnut liqueur (Nocino) on the background, and even a floral touch (rosewood?). It’s oaky, but is shows a surprising liveliness. Dried walnuts, chinotto, burnt baked sultanas and coffee. It’s a dark whisky, with an extra kick of white pepper provided by the casks, but it’s still juicy despite the oakiness. The finish is sherried, focused on orange and dried apricots, with a sprinkling of bitter cocoa. Probably the pairing with a chocolatey dessert emphasizes the predisposition to astringency, but actually the clashing effect is pleasant, damping the general sweetness. 85/100 for whisky, 7/10 for pairing.

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