First you smell it: The first waft of alcohol is startling and almost knocks the wind out of you, but the aroma of almonds and honey that follows draws you into your first sip. As soon as it hits your tongue there is a slight burn, a heat that wakes up your taste buds and startles them into action. Then comes a rush of flavors — vanilla, oak, something floral. In the end, a breeze of peat passes over you and lingers for a while.
It’s the first tasting of our Glenmorangie Scotch dinner on Thursday, July 9, at Strada, and we’re sampling the company’s original 10-year single malt. Just as we are removing the lids from our whiskey snifters to take our first sips, the plates arrive. The first course is a sort of deconstructed lox: pastrami-cured, smoked salmon; confit onion; cream cheese; a bagel crostini with a dollop of smoked mussel pate and a long streak of Dijon mayonnaise running down the middle of the plate.
Chef Anthony Cerrato has paired the meal with a selection of five Glenmorangie whiskeys — a fun task thanks to the unusual and experimental efforts of the brand’s distillers, who utilize alternative barrels and techniques to make a distinctive line of Scotch. Glenmorangie’s Lasanta offering spends around 10 years in American oak barrels, formerly used for aging bourbon, then it is transferred into oloroso sherry casks for an additional two years. The result is a Scotch that packs the raisin-laden aroma of sherry, a spicy body and a nutty finish. Paired with a powerful mole-drenched pork shank, harissa romesco and a plantain foam, it goes down quite easy.
The host is Rachael Ewing, one of the nation’s only two female whiskey sommeliers. Having grown up in Germany, tended bar in Scotland and lived in Tanzania and Italy, the 26-year-old’s deep locker of tall tales, legends and late-night bar stories draw a long, winding path through each whiskey and each course of food.
On our plates are a delicate lamb lollipop with a sweet-potato and date latke topped with a chutney of peppadew peppers and drizzled with a squiggle of mint chimichurri. In our glasses, Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban, another nonvintage whiskey that spends its last two years aging in port barrels. The result is a much darker, harsher, louder voice — one that smells of chocolate and walnut and tastes of orange zests and mint.
Then comes the remarkably delicious Nectar D’or, which is finished off in Sauternes casks. The dessert wine’s spent barrels lend the Scotch a light tannin that pricks at the tongue and begs for food. There is a lingering suggestion of ginger and an incredibly seasoned aftertaste. It sits alongside a duck confit and smoked onion napoleon served on a bed of watercress and a Saint Germain fig compote. And this simple alteration in the order of the meal’s service — the salad arriving before the dessert course — might be the only hint of Italian influence on the dinner so far.
Finally, we receive galub jamun, a dish that originated in South Asia and resembles a bread pudding but is made from milk solids, or khoya, that is blended into the dough. It is at once sweet and savory. The two marble-sized spheres are served in a bath of ginger-lemon syrup and paired with Glenmorangie’s 18-year vintage, a mature and established brew, a portion of which sees three years in oloroso casks. Dried fruits, honey and that charismatic sherry flavor wash the palate.
By the end of the dinner, the dozen or so of us in attendance are not just full but educated. With Ewing’s in-depth and accessible explanation of Scotch and what makes each offering for the night unique, it is as though we haven’t just been drinking or eating, we have been learning and proving that an educated palate is more often than not a very grateful one.