Complement or contrast? Match the flavours or cut through them? There’s an art to pairing sweet treats and spirits, whether neat or in a cocktail. As bar manager at The Rover, it’s a challenge Vinnie Pring takes seriously. “The most important thing to look at are the base notes or key elements of each,” he says. “If one thing doesn’t complement the other, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience.”
The Rover, previously the Wild Rover, has been a Surry Hills fixture in Sydney for 10 years. Following a refurb in early 2022, it’s reintroduced itself to the neighbourhood as a swish-but-inviting oyster, wine and cocktail bar, with a British-inspired seafood bistro upstairs. Pring has worked at sister venues The Gidley and Grandma’s, and the concept behind The Rover’s beverage menu follows the same ethos as the food. “We want to showcase all our seasonal products,” Pring says. “And we try to go as local as possible.”
The famously luxe chocolate mousse trifle at The Rover is served year-round. When it comes to a pairing tipple, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon was an easy match. “It has some slight tropical notes and that rich, delicious cacao,” he says. “It’s more soft and delicate from the barrel ageing, it’s not going to be too heavy, too harsh, too brash.”
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The trifle at The Rover starts with passionfruit curd layered at the bottom of the glass, followed by rich chocolate mousse and a house-made “ice magic” poured on top. Once it’s set in the fridge, it’s served with a praline-style brittle disc to smash through, mixing the flavours and textures for a little crunch.
Pring says the pairing works in three stages. “With Woodford, you’ve got that delicious rich, dried fruit flavour, a slight tobacco on the nose,” he says. “You’re kicking off with cacao on the nose and then in the flavour profile of the ‘ice magic’.
“Then into taste. It’s a big, round, delicious style of American whiskey with those amazing spice hints: cinnamon, cocoa. You’ve also got a tropical note of pineapple and the passionfruit coming in deliciously from the trifle. And you finish off with a really nutty, almondy flavour and it has a beautiful warm, rich finish like chocolate mousse.”
Perfectly paired with Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, served neat. Or, for a cocktail, Pring says the bittersweet balance of a Boulevardier plays well with the bitterness of dark cacao.
When it comes to matching with a rich, velvety chocolate dessert, he advises against a Scotch, as the more savoury, dry qualities can detract from the sweetness rather than complementing it. Of course, the fruit curd can change seasonally, which he says is a fun factor to play with when pairing.
For other tips, Pring finds that desserts with both sweet and savoury elements – such as a nutty, buttery Bakewell tart with a more sugary fruit layer – appreciate a cocktail with a bit of sourness to cut through both. And a surprise match for an American whiskey with an ABV over 45 per cent? Maltesers. “The crunchy malt in the middle absorbs some of the strong whiskey character and helps coat the entire mouth,” he says.
For those new to bourbon, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is the perfect intro. “The Double Oaked has a slightly more marzipan-y, nutty flavour,” Pring says. “It shares some similarities to Scotch and at the same time it’s a great intermediate-style American whiskey because it’s more complex. A great middle ground.”
Don’t want to limit Woodford pairings to dessert? He says a charcuterie board of the lighter smoked meats (such as prosciutto and jamon) works brilliantly as fattier, rich meats risk washing away the flavour; or serve it neat over ice to accompany a porterhouse steak.
The Rover’s chocolate mousse trifle
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Chill time: 2 hours
45g dark chocolate
50g cream (to heat)
68g cream (to whip)
200g passionfruit juice
250g white sugar
100g butter (cold, diced)
2.5g citric acid
100g dark chocolate
50g coconut oil
Place 45g of dark chocolate into a medium-sized bowl. Bring 50g of cream to a boil, then pour it over the dark chocolate. Slowly mix together and allow to sit to slightly cool.
Whip the remaining cream until you come to mid to hard peaks, then slowly fold into the cooled chocolate cream combo in stages, until the mixture is nice and fluffy.
Put eggs, passionfruit juice and sugar into a large bowl, and cook bain-marie style (heatproof glass bowl over a pot of simmering water) until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then add gelatine. While constantly whisking, slowly add in your butter until fully emulsified. Add the citric acid.
Place 100g of dark chocolate in a large bowl. Bring coconut oil to a light simmer, then pour over chocolate and whisk together.
Take four glasses or ramekins large enough to serve your trifle. Add a layer of passionfruit curd in each, then a layer of chocolate mousse. Lastly, pour over the slightly cooled chocolate topping and place it in the fridge for 2 hours to set.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Woodford Reserve.