A Dram Fine Match – 6 Whisky and Food Pairings You Must Try
As food and drink pairings go, matching wine and beer is nothing new. Pairing whisky with food, however, is a combination that might not spring immediately to mind, it traditionally being a drink taken after the meal. The popularity of the idea, however, is swiftly growing. And if you consider the sheer variety of whisky alongside its depth of flavour and repertoire of complex and intriguing notes, it is not a stretch to consider it could produce some wildly rewarding results on the palate when paired with complementary or contrasting food flavours. Whisky, after all, has for centuries been an invaluable chefs’ companion for marinades, stir-fries, glazing and sautéing, finishing sauces and of course, desserts.
Generally speaking, the qualities of an alcoholic drink that influence its interaction with food are the body – light, medium or full-bodied – alongside the alcohol content. It therefore helps to have a general idea of the classes and types of whisky, and its varying flavour profiles from lighter elements of sweetness and fruit with citrus notes, to more complex and bold offerings with strong peat, earthy and smoky notes. Furthermore, neither the whisky in its many forms – whisky, bourbon, scotch, or rye – or the food, should dominate or overwhelm the flavours of the other. Ultimately, they should complement each other and in turn, enhance the whole culinary experience.
As a general rule of thumb, light whiskies tend to go well with seafood and spicy meals, and medium whiskies pair well with high-protein dishes, while more full-bodied whiskies complement hearty plates possessing high-fat content. And it can be argued, the better the quality and older the whisky, the more intriguing and complex a truly complementary pairing tends to be.
If you’re wondering what foods pair best with whisky, let’s take a wee look at our top six favourite whisky and foods pairings that are guaranteed to create that ultimate gastronomic synergy:
1. Dark Chocolate
Perhaps not surprisingly, chocolate and whisky are a perfect pairing with the complex warming aspect of most whiskies undercutting and harmonising with the smooth, creamy texture of good quality chocolate. After all, both chocolate and whisky in their purest forms are made from such simple ingredients, which when combined offer up a wonderful array of diverse flavours. When it comes to dark chocolate, full-bodied age statement whiskies benefitting from maturation in sherry casks or European oak are an ultimate pairing as they achieve a stellar balance between both complementing and contrasting flavours. Not only dark, rich and “fruit-cakey”, the medicinal notes found in the likes of smoky Islay malt whiskies complement the bitter aspect of dark chocolate to a tee, while the Sherry note offers a sweet counterpoint to the bitterness, balancing out any harshness.
2. Apple Crumble or Apple Pie
Basically, apples in general and whisky are a match made in heaven. That comforting, sweet dessert, apple pie with its festive notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and brown sugar underscored with tartness from the apples pairs superbly well with light fragrant whiskies possessing a touch of sweetness, as well as the heavier peat of American whiskeys such as savoury bourbons or whiskeys having a high spicy rye content. The caramel flavours in bourbon complement apple pie exceptionally well, while a sherry cask finish brings the baking spices nutmeg and cinnamon to the fore. A dark caramel flavour in your whiskey will also complement the rich, cinnamon filling. Though if apple pie is a touch too heavy on crust for your liking, you can opt for an apple crumble instead finished with a sweet accompaniment of vanilla ice-cream. If that’s not quite enough to tantalise your tastebuds, indulge with a bourbon-caramel sauce on the side to further heighten the whiskey pairing.
3. Smoked Salmon
The dark, smoky flavour of salmon marries robustly well with whiskies that have a high rye content. The salmon’s smoke lends the whisky a spicy, fruity flavour that cuts well through the fattiness of the salmon. Light, fragrant whiskies with a touch of sweetness and a citrusy edge also undercut the oily richness of the fish, enhancing and lifting the flavour. It follows then, to avoid whisky that is heavily sweet, spicy or smoky in itself. On the whole, lighter, more fragrant malt whiskies pair well with delicately smoked salmon while peatier “Island” malts work a treat alongside a stronger smoke producing more robust, hearty and assertive flavours.
There is a reason why cheese is such a great pairing with whisky. For starters, both are aged and come in so many different and complex flavours and iterations. Strong cheese such as blue cheese – think Roquefort– matches well with smoky, peaty or spiced whiskies whose dark, bitter flavours bring out the cheese’s salty flavours. The sharp, full flavour of aged cheddar also marries well with whiskies that have a smoky flavour with bourbon complementing well with its caramelised woody notes. However, if strong cheeses aren’t to your liking, milder soft cheeses such as brie and goat cheese pair beautifully with light fragrant whiskies with a touch of sweetness. Floral whiskies are also adept at making the flavours of mild cheeses stand out.
5. Red Meat
Grilled steaks and whisky are a classic pairing that simply can’t go wrong. In general, steaks go beautifully with medium-bodied whiskies that are rich, deep, sweet and smoky, as the combined flavours will mimic each other. It pays to note, however, what flavours you are adding to your steak as well as the fat content of your cut. For leaner steaks such as sirloin, bourbon pairs very well. Lower fat content also goes well with lighter whiskies that are composed with caramel undertones, which will heighten the deep savoury flavour of the meat. Sweet, marbled cuts lend themselves nicely to richer, more rounded bourbons. Steaks, however, aren’t the only red meat that marries perfectly with whisky. Meatloaf is a match made in heaven, attracting spicy, full-bodied whiskies with high alcohol content that will cut through the rich, fattiness of the dish. Served up with a sweet, spicy barbecue sauce will further complement the pairing of a strong, smoky whisky. If you are partial to a great classic such as boeuf bourguignon, a peaty malt whisky will enhance this dish perfectly.
Sake is not the only alcoholic beverage that pairs well with sushi. Whisky is actually a faultless accompaniment to this dish. While at first glance, seafood might seem a little too subtle to be paired with the robustness of a full-bodied Scotch whisky, if you break it down, the many varied components of sushi such as the malty soy sauce, sweet and sour vinegar rice, the heat of spicy wasabi and pickled ginger, and the briny notes of seaweed all combine for the makings of a very rich and strong taste that pairs incredibly well with the equally complex bold brown spirit. And you cannot look past what some would argue to be the best whisky choice to pair with your sushi – Japanese whisky – which has the right sort of complexity to highlight the signature subtle notes and flavours of sushi on the palate. Generally speaking however, light fragrant whiskies with a hint of sweetness will get along with sushi like a house on fire.