Serving whisky with food may not be traditional but is has become very popular. A successful match is based on sensory evaluation, always starting from whisky’s aromatic profile (nosing), identifying the best ingredients to complement or contrast its flavors.
For instance, you may choose to balance sour or bitter notes with a honeyed sauce. The same applies to texture; you can oppose a smooth mouthfeel to crunchy vegetables or enhance a rich velvet whisky with a creamy sauce. It’s important to note that pairing whisky with food is not quite as easy as pairing wine with food…
A whisky and a dish have their own richness and personality. When (well) matched they create additional character and introduce new flavors. Don’t always try to match flavors. Matching a smoky whisky with a smoked salmon might sound intuitive, but the whisky smoke will kill the delicate salmon smokiness. Try a pairing where a component of the dish complements a note in the whisky. For example, a whisky with a note of apple will go very well with pork or strawberries, not with apples.
Food cooked with fat generally pairs quite well with any spirit, including whisky. Be it butter or a fatty piece of meat, the fat will coat your mouth. Then, when you take a sip of whisky, the flavours that have dissolved in that fat will be rapidly released into your mouth.
A word of warning: avoid garlic as its pungent flavour overwhelms the whisky’s flavor. Once a chef told me: “Garlic kills vampires but it also slays whisky.“
The type of cask
When pairing whiskies with food, check which type of cask your dram has been matured in, so you can match your whisky with its complementary flavors.
Whisky matured in bourbon casks tend to be light and fresh with a caramel sweetness and vanilla notes from the oak. They complement fish, shellfish, salads, poultry and fruit.
Examples: Glenfiddich, Aberlour, The Balvenie, Auchentoshan, Springbank, Glengoyne, Monkey Shoulder, Chivas Regal, Bulleit Bourbon
Whiskies matured in sherry casks (especially if they are made from European oak) are more tannic and pair better with red meat (beef, venison), rich sauces, dates and raisins, mature cheeses and chocolates.
Examples: The Balvenie Double Wood, Kavalan Sherry Oak, Glendronnach 12 Years 2013 Release, The Balvenie 15 years Single Barrel Sherry Cask, Laphroaig PX-Cask, Aberlour 12 Years Sherry Cask matured, Glenmorangie The Lasanta, Finlaggan Sherry Wood, The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve
Peated whiskies combine perfectly with oysters, blue cheese and citrus fruit. However, a peated whisky should never be paired with smoked food for as the two types of smoke will clash!
Examples: Ardbeg, Finlaggan, Talisker, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig, Coal Ila, Lagavullin, Highland Park, Bowmore
My favorite food and whisky pairings
Personally one of my favorite pairings: whisky and cheese. Pair smoky or spicy scotch whisky, such as Laphroaig, Ardbeg or Finlaggan with a stronger cheese like Roquefort, Stilton or any other blue cheese. With sweeter Scotches like Glenmorangie, try a softer cheese such as brie.
Personal favorite: The Balvenie Double Wood with Old Amsterdam or Talisker Port Ruighe with Shropshire cheese.
- Meat (Steak, venison and pork)
Any sherry or port imparted whisky, like The Auchentoshan Three Wood, goes excellent with steak, where a sweet Rye Bourbon (a Bulleit 95 Rye for instance) is a perfect match with pork meats such as ribs and pork chops. A wheated bourbon (Maker’s Mark) or a Canadian whisky (Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve) goes extremely well with venison.
Personal favorite: Bourbon-glazed pulled pork on a brioche bun. (Are you getting hungry?)
This is quite a common pairing during whisky tasting sessions and distillery tours. However, this paring can really help to bring out some of the bolder flavors of a whisky. But think a bit out of the box: choose your whisky first and then try and find a chocolate with flavor that complements the profile of the whisky (for example: a rich and peated flavored whisky goes well with a sweet slightly aromatic chocolate). The key is not go for every day chocolate: go for something a bit out of the box and see where the flavors take you!
My favorite? Lagavullin pairs very good with just plain dark chocolate.
Haggis had to be included here, since it is one of Scotlands’ national ‘treasures’. Haggis goes down perfectly with a hearty dram. And that dram should of course be a Scotch whisky. While any Scotch whisky really goes well with haggis, it is peated and slightly salty drams that really do it justice. The peat smoke with a tang of salt work together and bring out a richness in the meat.
My unbeatable combination: Talisker Storm and Haggis.
Sushi can be paired with a variety of whiskies, but according to Whisky Magazine, Talisker came out on top in several testings. Ardbeg is also recommended, due to its salty quality. Also the lighter, fruitier Japanese whisky of Yamazaki – best served chilled – may go well with tuna and salmon in sushi and sashimi dishes.