How whisky can add a finishing spark to your dinner party

Published: 03/03/2010

By Janet Christie

Glenmorangie Signet

Glenmorangie Signet


YOUR dinner party is drawing to a triumphant close. You've stunned your guests with the starters, mesmerised with the mains and dazzled with the desserts. How do you cap that before sending them off into the night convinced you are the host with the most?

It's time to unveil the latest weapon in the battle for the hearts and mouths of spirit-drinkers. It comes in the shape of Signet, a new special bottling from Glenmorangie.

Retailing at nearly £120, it's not cheap. But then it's not just any old whisky, according to its makers. Selected bars, such as the Missoni hotel and Tigerlily in Edinburgh, will serve it up with a whole new ritual involving special ice cubes with the Signet logo and atomisers to spray the glass and release the flavour of bitters, and then it's set alight.

There will be chocolate dippers to plunge into bowls of cinnamon and ginger spices, mocha coffee and candied orange, or even, whisper it, into the whisky itself. Dinner-party hosts will be encouraged to toy with their tastebuds by trying different combinations at home. Meddling with the cratur, whatever next?

Annabel Meikle, whisky creator and sensory expert for Glenmorangie, says: "It's very theatrical, so serving it after dinner with dark chocolate would enhance a meal. Some people might think dipping chocolate into whisky is sacrilege but once it's in your glass it's your whisky and you can drink it how you like."

Signet is the latest manifestation of the trend whereby food leads and whisky follows. We've become accustomed to the scientific approach of culinary alchemists – led by the great innovator Heston Blumenthal, with his snail porridge and bacon-and-egg ice-cream – and now the quest for the most mouth-popping sensations and experimental taste experiences has found its way into the tumblers of the nation.

What gives this whisky its particular taste is high-roasted chocolate malt, more like roasted coffee in colour. The chocolate malt batch, matured for ten years in a combination of bourbon and new oak casks, is then blended with other Glenmorangie whiskies, some up to 35 years old. "It's such a unique whisky, we're encouraging people to think about serving it in different ways, making it a bit special," says Meikle.

Meanwhile, her colleague Rachel Barrie, the first female whisky creator and master blender at Glenmorangie, is just as excited about Rollercoaster, the latest Ardbeg product. One of the annual bottlings produced for the 50,000 Ardbeg Committee members, Rollercoaster is available at £50 to anyone who joins up online.

It was Barrie's enviable task to select the perfect amount of whisky from casks dating from 1997 through to 2006, a whistlestop tour that culminated in producing a veritable rollercoaster of flavours, hence the name. "I felt like Willy Wonka creating the everlasting gobstopper," she says. "The different wood types of the barrels from different years give different characteristics and flavours, and there are thousands of casks, every one different.

"From just three ingredients – malt, water and yeast – come millions of tastes. From the 1997 casks came citrus lime flavours; 1999 was cherry smoky; 2002 was peaty and Tabasco; 2005 was sherry liquorice treacle; and 2006 was fish pie, lobster and lime."

With all that in a glass, who needs to eat? "It's a full meal, the closest whisky gets to food," agrees Barrie. "Ardbeg has a meaty stock character anyway, so there's everything from the savoury to the tangy to the sweet, and it's a rollercoaster that keeps on tasting."

Rollercoaster is quite a different product to Signet, she says. "I call them the beauty and the beast of malt whisky because Glenmorangie is beautiful and elegant whereas Ardbeg is wild and untamed. If Signet is a rich, luxurious experience, Ardbeg is the rock star of the whisky world, the wild, untamed rebel."

It was the start of coffee culture in the 1990s that set Barrie on the mission to get a contemporary taste into whisky while still being true to its heritage. "I wanted to get a mocha taste into the whisky, and that involved lots of experiments," she says.

Now we all know our mochas from our frappucinos and our sun-dried tomatoes from our plum, we're ripe for trying more sophisticated flavours as our palettes evolve. "Nowadays people enjoy full flavours, spicy food and artisanal cheeses. There is a hunger for new tastes, such as pepper, chilli and dark chocolate. Trends in tastes in whisky are mirroring those in the food industry, and we want surprises and fusion, complex combinations," she says.

And if you fancy trying the alchemy of whisky blending, Glengoyne Distillery offers a master blender session for £30. After a distillery tour and ten-year-old dram, guests are tutored in the art of blending, learning to nose and taste in order to produce their very own whisky. This is bottled to take home and serve next time you have friends to impress. Just add chocolate dippers.

Glenmorangie Signet, £117.95, 70cl, 46 per cent (

A velvet explosion of taste: mocha coffee, dark chocolate, thick oak, citrus and contrasts of melting sweetness and explosive spices.

Ardbeg Rollercoaster, £50, 70cl, 57.3 per cent (

Fresh topnotes of menthol, fennel and pine combine with deep base notes of brambles and black cherries, the sweetness of toffee apples, fused with the hallmark beeswax and earthy peat smoke.


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