Pairing Food and Whisky
25-12-2016 By Whisky of the Week

Pairing wine with food is standard practice. Traditionally red wine is paired with red meat and white wine with fish and seafood dishes. Over time these rules have become more relaxed and it has become more acceptable to have a glass of sweet, white wine with your steak, without anyone getting upset. But what about whisky and food? Can you have a glass of whisky with your dinner and if so, which whisky pairs with which food?

More and more people are experimenting with whisky. You don’t have to separate your glass of whisky from the dinner table. Whisky and food pair wonderfully together.

When pairing food with whisky, you need to look for balance. The characteristics of the food need to complement the tasting notes of the whisky. Lighter, less spicy dishes such as sushi would pair with lighter, softer drams. Strong spicy food pairs well with heavier whiskies. Smoked food pairs well with smoky whisky. Strong, earthy cheeses pair well with peaty whiskies.

Whisky can roughly be divided into 3 categories. Each of these categories have food matches that pair beautifully, although it is based on personal taste. Experiment with the options until you find pairings that you like. To give you an idea of where to start, here are a few examples:

Strong, Peaty Whiskies

These whiskies are traditionally from the Scottish Islay region. You can identify the earthy peat immediately from the aromas and these whiskies are not everyone’s cup of tea. Their earthy, medicinal notes can be tasted in, for example, Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig releases. These whiskies pair well with strong Blue or Stilton cheese and also work well with slow-cooked lamb and dark chocolate. The Ardbeg 10 Year Old pairs beautifully with a Garlic leg of Lamb or a charcuterie platter. The Three Ships 5 Year Old is a perfect match for a Blue Tower Cheese or strong aged Cheddar. Oysters and Caol Ila are a match made in heaven.

Peaty whisky blue cheese lamb chops dark chocolate

Full-bodied, Sweet Whiskies

The sweeter whiskies are traditionally from the Scottish Speyside region and aged in Sherry, Rum or Cognac casks. With the growth in world whisky, some amazing sweeter whisky has also come out of Taiwan (Kavalan) and India (Amrut). These sweeter whiskies match rich fruitcake, caramelised vegetables or steak. The Balvenie Caribbean Cask pairs perfectly with Camembert or Brie cheese. The Glenfarclas 12 Year Old makes a Red Leicester cheese sing.

sweet whisky camembert cheese lamb chops fruit cake cheddar cheese

Lighter, Sweeter, Floral Whiskies

These would be the traditional Scottish Lowland whiskies but can include a few releases from Glenfiddich and some Japanese whisky. The gentle fruity whisky pairs well with grilled fish, sushi and fruit-based desserts. A pear crumble and a Glenfiddich 12 Year Old creates magic and milk chocolate brownies will make a softer Dalwhinnie even better.

Floral whiskies sushi fruit salad

How to Pair

Start off slowly. What better place to start than with the last of the left over Christmas Cake. Or with some meat from the barbeque. Try it with a few different whiskies and see what you think. Play around. Taste is a very personal matter.

Mix things up. Sometimes the most unexpected pairings work. Pair a delicate sweet macaron with a sweeter peaty whisky such as the Laphroaig PX cask. The only limit is your imagination.

What are you waiting for? Go and try a whisky and food pairing today.