Single malts: seeing the light, Tim Pawsey image

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m no single malt expert. But I do have an appreciation for them, thanks to a relatively early introduction to Scotch whisky as a young (almost legal) adult.

Before leaving London I worked for my late uncle at his St. James fine art gallery and appraisal business. Our neighbours just happened to be Berry Brothers & Rudd, who had a warehouse right next door (a few minutes from the celebrated 300 year old original store). We shared the same under-pavement (sidewalk) loading chute.

My uncle and the Berry family had an eminently sensible barter arrangement for their occasional business dealings. Filthy lucre rarely changed hands—so it was quite normal to arrive on a Monday morning to discover a case of Cutty Sark, or Beaujolais—“jollyboys” as my uncle nicknamed it—sitting on the shared dock, as well as the odd brace of pheasant!

However, one thing’s for sure, Scotch was in play before—or, more usually, after—the meal (as well as for unspecified medical emergencies) but never consumed during dinner.

All that’s now changed with our preoccupation for pairing food and wine. Or beer. Or cocktails …  Or Single malt—as in last night’s intriguing exploration of The Balvenie Single Malts, paired with a highly inventive line-up of dishes by Four Seasons executive chef Ned Bell at Yew Restaurant + Bar.

Qualicum scallop and bacon wrapped spot prawn

For me a couple of the night’s more successful matches came with the smokiness of the 15 Year Aged Single Barrel, picked up by grilled sablefish, enhanced by the earthiness of de puy lentils, and smoky bacon bits with celery root, maple and pecan vinaigrette.

I also enjoyed an ‘unofficial’ match of the 12 Year Aged Double Wood, whose mellow, sherry wood and honey tones were a shoo-in for bacon wrapped spot prawns with caramelized apple butter.

While the Double Wood worked nicely with oat and almond crusted Fanny Bay oysters, I did find it was overpowered by the marinated anchovies in the same dish.

Vista Doro apple pie, prune and whisky ice cream with Port Wood. Why not?

I’d be remiss not to offer more than a passing nod to dessert, pastry chef Bruno Feldeisen’s impossibly perfect Vista Doro apple pie beside prune and whisky ice cream and sea salt caramel—all ingredients that seemed entirely appropriate for a final sip of very smooth Port Wood 21 Year Aged.

If you want to buy me any one of these single malts for Christmas I’ll have no problem drinking it, even if my penchant for peaty styles finds me leaning towards the hard to find, quite complex, mildly sweet, smoky and spicy 17 year aged Peated Cask (Legacy, $182). It lined up well beside the multi faceted ‘surf ‘n turf, including addictive Bell’s lobster mash… although I still found myself sipping it on its own.

Hard to pick a favourite but …

If you want to try your own at home pairing, I’d suggest starting out with the more flexible (and relatively affordable) Double Wood 12 Year Aged (BCLS $79.99), which was a willing partner to quite a few tastes we tried, including the chef’s soda and whisky soaked lightly smoked almonds, smoked oyster Scottish style biscuits, and whisky misted oysters on the half shell. Working with simpler tastes that incorporate some of the whisky’s elements is probably the best way to go …

If you had your heart set on buying the one bottle of Balvenie Fifty (a salute to malt master David Stewart’s remarkable half century of service) somebody else beat you to it. The rarity, one of only 88 bottles produced, was sold for $33,000 on Monday.

On the other hand, you can find the full range of Balvenie at BC Liquor Stores and at private liquor stores such as Legacy Liquor Store.

The Hired Belly (who still has no problem with the odd ‘Cutty’ but now prefers single malts) was hosted by The Balvenie importers PMA Canada and Yew Restaurant.

Follow me at rebelmouse.com/hiredbelly for play-by-play daily tasting recommendations and more, stunning, grainy pix courtesy of my iphone

The ultimate indulgence: short rib ‘surf ‘n turf’ with lobster mash and nutmeg crumble, plus peated cask…