On Wednesday night, two of my favorite places in Utah teamed up together :: Salt Lake City’s Spanish tapas restaurant Finca and Park City’s High West Distillery, for a whiskey-pairing dinner. The two are practically a match made in heaven. The whole restaurant was packed full of patrons anxious to pair their favorite spirit with their favorite Spanish foods and none of us left disappointed.
Within seconds of taking a seat, servers delivered a fruit punch cocktail using High West’s American Prairie Reserve, a blend of 6-year-old and 10-year-old bourbons that produces a whiskey full of vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and honey flavors. Combined with the sweet, sugary punch, the two created a perfectly balanced drink. It’s one of those dangerous cocktails that you could easily sip all night and suddenly find yourself very intoxicated because the alcohol is masked so well. Finca’s owner, Scott Evans, explained that ‘back in the day’ saloons each had their own signature punch that drew loyalty from customers, so they often kept the ingredients a secret. Scott openly shared the magical mystery to this delicious drink by handing out copies of the recipe, but making it required a laborious process lasting hours so I doubt anyone left the dinner rushing home to make it. (Although if they did, please let me know. I’d love to have some more!)
The punch was paired with a cheese plate of Spanish and local cheese, including the popular Barely Buzzed by Beehive Cheese, a creamy cheese rubbed with espresso. Jam and fruit also accompanied the plate but I’m not a fruit person and left those to my dining companions.
Next up was High West’s Son of Bourye, a blend of 5-year-old bourbon and 3-year-old rye. At first sip there are hints of honey, then the flavor evolves to a more spicy, cinnamon flavor. High West’s owner Dave Perkins said it reminded him of the Cinnamon Red Hot candies. The S.O.B. (as it’s known at the distillery) was served nice and neat, along with Finca’s Zanahoria de Asador, wood-grilled carrots in a cumin/saffron/honey glaze. These carrots were like candy, caramelized until sweet. When paired with the whiskey, they brought out the sweetness of the whiskey, but the whiskey’s smokey side balanced out the carrots. What a team!
The next whiskey was High West’s Campfire. Introduced to the world just last year (at the High West Derby Day Celebration I attended), the whiskey is a blend of bourbon, rye and scotch. We learned that the bourbon provides a sweet honey flavor while the rye gives it a nice kick of spice, and the scotch, of course, gives it that peaty smokiness to round out the whole thing. In a stroke of genius, Finca paired the Campfire with a Spanish flatbread topped with mushrooms and smoked ricotta (called the Coca Setas). The mushrooms complemented the earthiness of the scotch in the whiskey, while the sweet and spicy flavors provided a bit of balance and together it was wonderful. My favorite pairing of the night.
While we sipped on our Campfire, Finca also served their papas y aioli, crunchy potatoes bathed in paprika and topped with a garlic aioli. This time, the paprika teamed up with the spicy rye in the whiskey, together creating another great pairing.
The final pairing was High West’s Rendezvous Rye, the whiskey that put Park City’s distillery on the map. It’s a blend of 6-year-old and 16-year-old rye whiskeys that together do not hold back on their bite. It’s a delicious whiskey. And when combined with beef slider with piquillo cream cheese and pickled onion, it’s a tasty spark of greatness.
We were on such a high from the spectacular pairings that we had to share a dessert to finish the night. We picked Finca’s dessert special of the evening, a jalapeno chocolate cake. Intensely rich and fudge-like with the slightest hint of spiciness, it was phenomenal.
Even for a seasoned whiskey drinker like me, I was shocked at how well whiskey paired with each dish to enhance the flavors of both. Finca recently won two awards from Salt Lake Magazine’s Dining Awards for Best Wine List and Best Mixologist. But after this pairing dinner, I’m bypassing the wine next time and heading straight for whiskey.
Finca is hosting another pairing dinner next week, this time a wine pairing featuring the Bodegas Alzania wines from Navarra, Spain. To sign up, call the restaurant at 801-487-0699.