Whilst I'm perfectly willing to put the hours in to bring myself fully up to scratch, I'm still something of a whisky duffer. I only acquired the taste for it a few years ago and am best described as an enthusiastic amateur, happy to try new things but always slightly wary of accidentally getting one of those TCP ones that tastes like it belongs in the medicine rather than the drinks cabinet. When I mentioned I was going to a whisky pairing evening hosted by Old Pulteney, however, the reaction was entirely positive - everyone seems to rate this single malt most highly, with one trusted friend proclaiming it her favourite all-time whisky. Even better, the event was to be held in the 12th floor bar of Spinningfields's Manchester House (as you can see from the stunning views that greeted us on our arrival), with specially-created canapés served up by Aiden Byrne, one of my absolute favourites of Manchester chefs.
The event was designed to celebrate the forthcoming Bolton Food and Drink Festival over the August Bank Holiday weekend, where Old Pulteney are music and entertainment sponsors and where Aiden will be appearing in the Regional Chef's Kitchen, and certainly suggests that a trip to Bolton will be in order at the end of the month. We began with a welcome cocktail that tasted smooth and sweet but turned out to be fairly lethal, consisting of two parts Old Pulteney 12 Year Old and one part Stroma Malt Whisky Liqueur - anyone who thinks whisky is too harsh a drink would do well to adopt this as their starter drink (although perhaps only one at a time, whilst sitting down). The 12 Year Old, the brand's entry-level whisky, turned out to be just as easy to drink on its own, perhaps because it's matured in ex-bourbon casks and has a mellow sweetness as a result. It also has more than a whiff of the sea about it, a brininess picked up in an outstanding opening canapé from Chef Byrne - the Nori rice cracker with cured salmon and seaweed salad (including some little orbs of salmon caviar and an addictive wasabi mayonnaise) was a perfect match.
Next up was the Old Pulteney 17 Year Old paired with chicken liver and wild sugar parfait, tobacco-scented chocolate and spiced plum purée. This was a bold combination that really worked, with the sweet richness of the parfait dish providing an interesting foil for the spicy heaviness of the whisky (a taste which I ineptly summed up as *technical whisky jargon klaxon* "feisty"). So rich was this dish that when offered a second helping (which I automatically said yes please to) I was unable to finish it, a hitherto unheard-of event, ever. Brand Ambassador Andy Hannah had, of course, left the best until last, and we finished up with the Old Pulteney 21 Year Old, which was awarded "World Whisky of the Year" in Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible. It's fairly easy to see why - this whisky was soft, and smooth, and sweet, and smoky, and I would have a tot of it every night before bed for the rest of my life if only I could afford to. This mighty dram was paired with a dainty spoon of poached lobster with smoked apple purée and vanilla oil, which perfectly picked out the sweeter notes in the whisky. The whole point behind the "Pulteney Pairings" idea is that the distinctive flavours of each whisky make them perfect for food matching, rather than just thinking of whisky as a pre- or post-dinner drink, and the whole evening has certainly inspired me to look beyond my traditional guilty accompaniments of cheese on toast, crisps, or similar.
The Bolton Food and Drink Festival takes place from 26th-29th August, with The Old Pulteney Drifter - a bar made from driftwood, shaped like a boat to reflect the brand's roots by the sea in Wick - open throughout for dram sampling. Aiden Byrne will be doing two demos at Chef's Quarter at The Vaults on Monday 29th - most of Manchester remain amazed that he and Manchester House have yet to be awarded that elusive Michelin star, so he's well worth going to see. Also, full credit to him for good-humouredly talking to a girl full of whisky about cheese for the best part of half an hour - I promise not to bother him again during the festival.
- Manchester House is at 18-22 Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BZ, and Bolton Food and Drink Festival (the largest Food and Drink Festival in the North West) takes place at various locations across Bolton. You can find out more about Old Pulteney here. This was a free event but I am a regular paying customer at Manchester House and will certainly pick up a bottle of Old Pulteney in the near future.