Whisky and music. Can it work? Whisky has successfully been paired and matched with dinner courses, cheese, chocolate, coffee, ice-cream and beer. About the only pairing struggled with is the concept of Whisky & Music. It’s admittedly a far less tangible concept than pairing whisky to food and beverages, not to mention a more subjective pursuit. After all, people’s tastes and preferences in music cover a far more diverse (and sensitive) spectrum, and it’s difficult to assign objectivity to the applicability or success of any match. For example, who’s to say a 10 year old Talisker is lifted or enhanced by drinking it to Beethoven’s Third Symphony any better than it would if paired with ‘Uprising’ by Muse? Does a malt with a long finish work well with a song that has a long ending?
Whisky as I’m sure you’ve discovered by now – is a very versatile drink. It can be enjoyed any number of ways (neat, over ice, with a mixer, etc. it’s a key ingredient in many cocktails; and it can be paired beautifully with a large number of foods and other beverages. Such culinary matchings are now the norm, and whisky dinners – featuring malts that are specifically matched to the food courses are almost passe.
But it wasn’t always this way. Attitudes to and experiences with whisky were once fairly narrow in their vision. In fact, it was only as recently as 20 years ago that matching whisky to food became a “thing”. Internationally, it was probably the work by Martine Nouet through Whisky Magazine that brought attention to the craft and skill of matching whisky to food.
Over time, whisky came to be paired with many different things. I’ve hosted my fair share of Whisky & Cheese events over the years, and this also grew to incorporate many events that showcased Whisky & Chocolate, Whisky & Beer, Whisky & Coffee, and Whisky & Ice Cream. And, whilst it’s a practice I don’t personally endorse, Whisky & Cigars is also a popular pursuit.
About the only pairing I’ve struggled with is the concept of Whisky & Music. It’s admittedly a far less tangible concept than pairing whisky to food and beverages, not to mention a more subjective pursuit. After all, people’s tastes and preferences in music cover a far more diverse (and sensitive) spectrum, and it’s difficult to assign objectivity to the applicability or success of any match. For example, who’s to say a 10 year old Talisker is lifted or enhanced by drinking it to Beethoven’s Third Symphony any better than it would if paired with ‘Uprising’ by Muse? Does a malt with a long finish work well with a song that has a long ending?
Having said that, I do like the idea of bringing the last of the senses into whisky appreciation. The enjoyment of whisky already exercises sight, smell, taste, and touch. (We use sight to admire the whisky’s colour; we use smell to take in the spirit’s nose/bouquet; we use taste to enjoy the flavor; and our tongue, cheeks, and gums exercise touch or feel as they’re impacted by the whisky’s texture and heat). On that note, you could also read this article, “Listen to your whisky“. But pairing whisky and music lacks objectivity – what is the yardstick and how do we account for personal musical taste? It is thus an individual pursuit. Experience has been that a successful match relies more on mood than it does on, say, rhythm or melody. Whisky certainly has a mood and a character – a malt can be soft or aggressive; it can be bombastic or it can be contemplative. It can be vibrant and awakening or it can be calming/soothing. Some whiskies are even soulful. And, thus, there are musical genres and certainly songs that share those characteristics and an appropriate pairing can yield a result that is better than the sum of the parts.
The pairing dilemma:
Would Bowmore work better with Bach or the Beach Boys?
Interestingly, I believe Scotch whisky is more difficult to match to music than other whiskies or spirits. Other drinks seem to have natural musical partners. For example, there’s something intrinsic about, say, bourbon and blues. Chicago blues or the slow drawl of southern roots blues – even gospel – just cry out to be paired with a fat tumbler filled with Wild Turkey or Jack Daniels. Similarly, rum and reggae just “works”. Perhaps it’s simply because the bagpipes aren’t the most universally appreciated instrument, but – outside of a Burns Supper – there’s less of a link between Scotland’s national drink and its national instrument and music. For most people, we have a favorite whisky and we have a favorite artist, and we’re happy to enjoy both at the same time. But does that make it a pairing or a match? Or is it just multi-tasking?
I suspect most readers might not care much for traditional Scottish music, and I confess that listening to a full CD of pipes & drums isn’t always my go to but again it’s what your mood is and perhaps your company in are with. Having said that, there are some Scottish bands and artists that are giving traditional Scottish music and instruments a far more contemporary sound and interpretation. It’s over 10 years since the Red Hot Chilli Pipers introduced their take on “Bag Rock” (notwithstanding ACDC’s earlier effort with ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’ or John Farnham with ‘You’re the Voice’) and for those of us who gravitate to music that revolves around guitars and drums, there’s certainly some sounds coming out of Scotland that pair brilliantly with grassy Speysiders or spicy Highland drams. Skerryvore, Skipinnish, the aforementioned Red Hot Chilli Pipers, and even the Peat Bog Faeries all mix contemporary rock and pop with traditional Scottish tunes, reels, and instruments. Those with a more commercial sound have enjoyed accompanying commercial success – think KT Tunstall or The Proclaimers. Or for those who prefer a more old-school style of rock, even Runrig fits the bill, assuming you don’t mind singing along in Gaelic. To save you searching Whisky & Wisdom has compiled a short Spotify Playlist of Scottish artists and songs that specifically beg to be paired with a good single malt.
For those who like their whiskies dialed up to 11 – i.e. cask strength, non-chill filtered, single cask, single malts – my suggestion is to get your hands on just about any bottling of Caol Ila released by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society….they pair perfectly with Steel Panther’s first album. Again I think it’s more of a mood and company thing. Many times I like more of a soft classic sound.
Few of MY Personnel choices:
Andre Rieu – Amazing Grace live in Amsterdam and Highland Cathedral
Tom Walker – Most songs
Joshua Payne – Most songs
Katherine Jenkins – The 50 greatest romantic pieces
Mabel – High Expectations
Susan Boyle – Mull of Kintyre
PLEASE send me your thoughts and some songs you like to hear