We’re all familiar with the idea of pairing food and wine. Indeed, it’s the kind of thing that brightens up even the darkest day; that interplay of tannins, acids, flavours and aromas work wonders with all of our favourite dishes, and figuring out the best wines to serve with your dinner is a real joy that we can all partake in.
However, more and more people are starting to explore the utterly delicious possibilities that arise from bringing together food and whisky. It’s not necessarily a new idea - Scotch has been served with haggis, neeps and tatties for generations, after all - but it is something which has really taken off in the trendier whisky bars in recent years. As fine whisky continues its astronomic resurgence in popularity among younger, hipper, and foodier drinkers, we can expect more incredible pairings to come to light over the next few years.
Top tips for whisky and food pairing
As every whisky lover knows, their favourite tipple boasts a massive array of different flavours and characters, depending on the style of the distillery, the type of grain used, and the personality of the whisky they’re trying to produce.
While we’ve got plenty of awesome recommendations up our sleeve for top food and whisky pairings, this is the kind of thing which requires plenty of subjective exploration as well. The best matches are those which bring together the subtler flavours of the spirit with the flavours in the food - think about all those caramel, nut, chocolate and spice notes - but really, it’s up to you to check out the combinations with work best for your unique palate. There’s a whole world of taste sensations out there to explore… these recommendations are just the beginning of an amazing journey!
As a result, different whiskies can be paired with an impressive range of dishes and ingredients. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular pairings of different whisky styles.
Smoky Whisky, Smoky Food
There are plenty of whiskies out there in the world which boast a delightful smokiness, often due the way peat has been utilised, or because the whisky has been aged in charred barrels. These spirits will pretty much work with any smoked food you can imagine, as that complementary pairing is going to be hard to beat.
Lighter, breezier whiskies such as The Balvenie Doublewood work brilliantly with smoked salmon, as that hint of sweetness also works wonders with the sweet, decadent flesh of the fish. Medium-bodied whisky will be gorgeous with other smoked fish, such as mackerel. We’ve also found incredible results with bacon and ham dishes, especially when paired with Knockderry House 25 year malt whisky or similar fine single malts.
Cheese and Whisky
Just like with wine, whisky is a superb pairing for cheese. There’s something about those strong, tangy flavours, and the way that whisky cuts through the fattiness of cheese that makes these pairings really special.
However, you want to probably steer clear of milder, fresher cheeses when it comes to your pairings - most whiskies will just bulldoze through their subtle, creamy flavours. Try bringing a good, aged cheddar together with whisky aged in a Sherry cask, such as a Dalmore 15, or the oily joy that is feta together with a similarly oily, salty whisky like a Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban.
Whisky and Steak
What could be more satisfying that a nice, juicy, rare steak and a dram of excellent whisky to go with it? This is a pairing with works on so many levels - the deep savouriness of the meat, lifted by the caramelised sweetness of the spirit is just the beginning - and the sheer masculinity and ruggedness of this match is one we can all get into.
Single pot still Irish whiskey tends to work really well with steak, but there are loads of options open for you, depending on which cut of meat you prefer. Rib-eye is said to work very well with Islay scotch whisky, Bourbon works better with leaner cuts like filet, and Canadian Rye’s spiciness seems to be a top match with sirloin. However, we can’t really think of a whisky and steak combo that doesn’t hit the spot, so feel free to experiment wildly!
For those with a sweet tooth...
Unlike most wines, whisky works brilliantly with a wide range of sweet foods and desserts. Straight-up dark chocolate - with its bitter tannins and subtle sweetness - is the most natural choice of sweet stuff to pair with whisky, but it’s by no means the only route you can take. Rich, British-style puddings like steamed syrup sponge and sticky toffee pudding are also delicious… especially when paired with whisky that makes the most of its own sweetness, such as rum-casked bottles like Glenfiddich 21-Year Old Reserva Rum Cask Finish.
...And now the classic
There’s no more traditional pairing out there than haggis and whisky. While the Scottish delicacy of lamb offal and pepper isn’t the most appetizing-sounding of meals, it’s actually utterly delicious, and even more so when paired with a classic Scotch single malt. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it… and soon, you’ll be recommending it to everyone you know each time St. Andrews Day or Burns Night comes around!