By Richard Thomas
Indian cuisine ranks right behind, or perhaps has parity with, domestic staples such as roasts and the “Full English” in British dining, while one of the fixtures The Raj left in India is a love for a good Scotch (or the locally made equivalent). From a base like that, the notion of pairing curry with whisky seems like a natural next step.
Or it would were it not for the way that step is so often handled. Most of the articles I see on the subject of whiskey and curry pairings are essentially promo pieces for a very pricey, very upscale gourmet restaurant, the kind of place that serves few if any of the classic dishes one expects from a more normal Indian restaurant, however nice. The whiskeys too are often not just top shelf, but of the super premium variety.
In other words, those are lifestyle fantasy articles that offer no real advice for how one might combine a decent curry with a decent whisky in everyday circumstances. Yet many Scotches go together with Indian cuisine because the spice notes are so complimentary: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, pepper. Some Speysides taste like they had a teaspoon of Garam Masala stirred into the bottle.
With that in mind, here are some ideas on combining some nice whiskies with your next Indian restaurant or take-away experience:
Aberfeldy 12 Year Old and Goan Fish and Seafood: After the incendiary Vindaloo, Goan cuisine is best known for its fish and shrimp curries. With its sweetly spiced notes and oily texture, Aberfeldy 12 Year Old makes for solid company with these dishes.
Ardbeg Ten and Tandoori: The smoky, sea spray-laden Islay Ardbeg Ten, the distillery’s 10 Year Old entry level single malt, is the for dishes made in a classic tandoor, or cylindrical clay oven. This is partly because a traditional tandoor is fired with charcoal, creating a complimentary smokiness in the food, and partly because of the qualities tandoor spice mixture. For most diners, this will mean a pairing with Tandoori Chicken, although many restaurants have more than one tandoor-baked dish.
Black Bottle and Jalfrezi: Jalfrezi gets the only blended Scotch recommendation I’m making in this list, Black Bottle. Jalfrezis are fry marinated using a spice mix that usually straddles the medium hot divide, so a potent and somewhat pungent character is needed to match it. With its toasty, peppery wood, floral aspects, and wet ash flavors, Black Bottle delivers the necessary weight.
Cragganmore 12 Year Old and Korma: The basis for korma is a spice mix based on cumin and coriander paired with a base of yogurt, making it creamy smooth. What you are looking for in a Scotch pairing there is something to mirror the texture, and for that go straight to the Cragganmore 12 Year Old.
Glenfiddich 12 Year Old and Chicken Tikka Masala: As a creamy, milder curry that makes ample use of ginger, Chicken Tikka Masala calls out for a whisky with apple-and-pear and nutty flavors, and the price tag king of that kind of scotch is the world’s best seller, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old.