It is clear from the first few pages, that R. M. Peluso knows her chocolate. An accomplished chocolate reviewer (yes, you read that correctly – what a spectacular hobby), Peluso embarks upon a nearly spiritual journey through how to properly taste chocolate and pair it’s many subtleties with various types of whiskeys from across the globe. This, as she describes, is “palate porno.” After all, what is more sensual than a rich piece of chocolate and a glass of your favorite whiskey? Or maybe that’s just the bourbon nerd in me.
Overall, the book is a very useful roadmap on how to guide the whiskey-phile and novice alike through the intricate taste maze that is chocolate pairing. Do pick up this book if you want to learn about the rather complex world of chocolate (and the important tenet that good chocolate + good whiskey does not a good pairing always make) but don’t expect this to shed new light on the whiskey itself.
First, my complaint. My bourbon snobbery was first triggered by the Pappy Fallacy being invoked within the first 5 pages. Thankfully, the author indicates it is indeed a craze and “the hot and trendy thing,” though it’s invocation is still eye-roll inducing. It’s the bourbon version of Cady Heron not being able to get through a conversation without discussing Regina George: “Why are you so obsessed with me?” Why, indeed.
As I mentioned, the chocolate knowledge in this book is solid. The whiskey part is a bit more tenuous. A self-declared teetotaler for most of her life – the research period of this book excepted – this book was a learning experience for the author, entering into the realms of every type of major whisk(e)y on earth for the sole purpose of pairing them perfectly with the right chocolates. The book launches first into an exploration of what “craft and artisan” – in respect to both distiller and chocolatiers – actually means. She erroneously (in my view) identifies labels such as Eagle Rare and Basil Hayden as in-house craft brands at big distillers; I call them “premium brands.” It is clear the entire inclusion of craft distilling in the book is only to allow for an in-depth look at what artisan or craft chocolate making actually means, which is indeed valuable. Perhaps she should have skipped over the craft distilling aspect, as it distracts from the core purpose of the book: chocolate.
The spiritual aspect of the book is woven throughout, a theme I could have done without. A an interfaith minister and proponent of meditation (I do love my yoga and Headspace app), the author sees the endeavor of eating chocolate as other-worldly, which is a bit of a stretch for me. There is also a chapter on moderation which you can skip as it’s a bit preachy (old habits die hard, etc). Here’s my quick and dirty summary: Drink responsibly, don’t overindulge in sweets, don’t be an idiot, listen to your doctor, and seek help if you need it. The exercise on nosing and aromas is useful, but let’s do get onto the pairings!
The author cites the first step in the tasting process is to examine the exterior packaging, appreciate it, and then compare with how the interior product compares visually to the outside. Though I do not suggest doing this with bourbon as a label does not indicate quality for whiskey (i.e. – Orphan Barrels), it is an intellectual way to engage with the thought process of how makers want their product to be perceived. The subsequent tasting process is similar to that of tasting whiskey: nose the chocolate, appreciate the color, and then taste, seeking an impression at every stage of the bite.
The book includes an extensive “flavor inventory,” with a listing of the various expressions of flavors in both chocolate and whiskey, and how to properly match them together. The author also provides a few flavor wheels – including one from us! – to help visually guide a pairing. To assist in the purchasing process, Peluso indicates what brands of chocolate are best-suited for certain tastings, and where to find various brands. All whiskeys are represented, so I encourage you to break outside of just the bourbon world and try a side-by-side pairing with various types of whiskies.
Pairings – especially with a product as diverse chocolate – are a wonderful way to make even the most familiar whiskey feel new again. It’s a great activity to introduce friends, family, and colleagues to your favorite bourbon in a way that makes them think critically about what they are trying. Deep Tasting Chocolate & Whiskey is certainly a clear guide that can help you accomplish a tasting sure to impress everyone.