Whisky aficionados who descend on one of the world’s leading Whisky festivals have many hobbies and interests – and one will be sharing his love of donuts and drams at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2018.
The event ‘Here’s Johnny’ is more The Simpsons than The Shining, given donuts are Homer Simpson’s favourite food, and comes all the way from the USA, courtesy of Californian, Johnny Baldaray. He’s commissioned a specialist donut maker in Edinburgh to create some delicious delicacies to sample alongside half a dozen Whiskies.
Visiting Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival three years ago, Johnny and his wife Erica developed a love for Speyside single malts, and with a number of Whisky and food pairings in the programme, Johnny thought he’d have a go himself, matching the amber nectar to his favorite sweet treat. Back home in America, he launched @whiskyanddonuts on social media and now has over 10,000 followers.
It may seem like an unlikely combination, and Johnny admits the concept came about almost by accident.
Johnny explains: “Shortly after our first trip to Scotland in 2015, we invited close friends over for dinner which included tastings of all the Whiskies we brought back. It just so happened that we had picked up a box of donuts from our favorite shop earlier that day, and as the Whisky was poured, the donut box made its way to the table.
“Later that night we all shared new year’s resolutions, and mine was to create an Instagram account called @whiskyanddonuts and as they say, the rest is history.”
A return visit to Speyside in 2016 saw Johnny launch a dark chocolate donut at Tomintoul Distillery, with Old Ballantruan, the distiller’s peated range, arousing the curiosity of whisky fans – but he’s the first to admit that not everyone approves.
Johnny says: “Those in attendance during the Tomintoul tour did not hesitate in reaching for a few bites of the donuts. Some enjoyed the combos more than others, but overall, it shook things up during the tasting in a fun way!
“We have experienced a small share of resistance within our Whisky and Donuts journey, social media allows people to feel invincible with their judgements, and frankly, we get a kick out of that!
“Even more interesting than the disapprovals, are the comments that say we paired the wrong donut! Personally, I love and embrace the purists in Whisky culture, I am far from an expert on the subject and often find inspiration from those who are so devoted to tradition and regiment.”
There are no hard and fast rules for tastings with Johnny who keeps an open book about the type of donuts and Whiskies that can be paired as it is purely experimental – and always fun.
However, there are certain flavor combinations that clearly work, with bourbons/bourbon-based brands great with sweet chocolate, port/fruity Whiskies tend to match fruit or jelly topped, while smoky/peaty drams work with nuts or custard.
With that said there is no real combination guide as everyone’s palate is different and the whole point is to be willing to mix things up.
Johnny adds: “I think it is too early in our process to say that there are guidelines. All Whiskies work. And more importantly, there is a donut out there for any Whisky or the other way around! It may be biased to say that Speyside Whiskies work very well, as we obviously hold the region closer to our heart than others but there are so many delicious little characteristics here, that the pairing process is that much more enjoyable.
“We are especially excited to be teaming up with Deadly Donuts from Edinburgh. The pairing will include six Whiskies with a small exclusively made donut to match. We are in the final stages of the flavor line up, and can’t wait to share this one of a kind session to spark the conversations, laughter, and fun.”
Due to interest back home, Johnny has already hosted various pairing sessions with donut shops in the USA and adds: “Craft donut shops are all over the States and many of them are creating amazing and wild pastries that are not only super delicious, but fun to photograph.
“The UK donut scene is not far behind, as we plan to visit a few shops before our arrival in Speyside.”
James Campbell, chairman of Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, says: “Our festival is full of surprises and every year we’re amazed by the innovative additions to the programme which takes in everything from traditional tours and tastings to curious events like pairing Whisky and donuts. It goes to show the diversity of our offering, and we really do have something to appeal to all tastes.”
Tickets are still available for a number of the 500 plus events that make up this year’s programme across Speyside including the Here’s Johnny donut and Whisky pairing at the Commercial Hotel, Dufftown, on Sunday, May 6. Lots of food-themed events feature in the 2018 programme, including individual quests to find the best Whiskies to match bacon rolls, haggis, and chocolate, Whisky dinners with each course paired with a dram, the chance to sample Whisky-flavoured ice cream or dine on steak topped with a malt Whisky sauce.
The Festival runs from May 3 to 7 and features behind-the-scenes tours at internationally renowned distilleries not usually open to the public, Whisky tasting masterclasses, Whisky and food pairings. It has music, outdoors activities, and heritage events, meaning the festival offers something for die-hard Whisky fans to those who have never tried it before.