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What if you could have a pairing whisky cheat sheet… wouldn’t that be amazing? Usually, you hear about fine wines and beers being paired with delicacies, gourmet 3-course meals, or comfort food. The combination of wine and cheese is something that every person loves ― Pinot Noir with Gruyere, champagne and Briar, Cabernet Sauvignon and Aged Cheddar, and so on. The list is pretty long but wine connoisseurs know it by heart. Now when you move on to whisky, what do you know about it?
Many people in a Whisky Club have this false notion that whisky does not pair with food. Even if it does then perhaps the pairing whisky is too hard to consistently execute. However, with the information we are about to share with you, dabbling with it will become quite easy.
First, let’s talk about how whisky came to be:
The History of Whisky
The process of whisky getting distilled started in Scotland hundreds of years ago. It’s possible that this amber liquid was brought into the country through Christian Missionary Monks. The first historical reference about whisky was in a book by Mr. J. Marshall Robb. The book titled “Scotch Whisky” talked about the liquor’s benefits. An expert from the book that mentions whisky says, “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vita.”
King James IV had entries in his Treasurer Accounts that mentioned, “For aqua vite to the King.” From this phrase, we can safely deduce that aqua vitae referred to spirit for drinking.
We now know that whisky was being distilled for the elites. It became common when a distillery, sort of a whisky club, opened in 1690 named Ferintosh Distillery, which was owned by Judge Duncan Forbes of Culloden. As for the charge on distributing whisky, that’s a whole another story that we will discuss another day.
Pairing Whiskey With Food
The Scots have married whisky to their national dish haggis and the Irish with smoked salmon. Whisky is not only paired with food but also added while preparing it to elevate its taste. From sauces to marinades, anything that has whisky in it has a unique taste. This is why whiskey plays a dominant role because a single malt cannot always be replaced by another.
Since whisky hails from Scotland, most of the malts have a salty flavor with a hint of iodine. As a result, the most notable pairing whisky is with seafood such as scallops or prawns flambéed with Bowmore or Laphroaig.
Here are a few more pairing whisky with savories and sweets:
- Lagavulin with oysters for a boggy marriage, which brings out the seaweed notes in the malt
- Talisker with Wild Scottish salmon, which brings out the peppery and spicy taste, and the malts smoky aroma
- Oban with average (herring roe), which brings out the malt’s sea salt taste mixed with figs
- Glenkinchie with razor clams, which combines the malt’s sweet, fruity taste with the saltiness of the clams
- Dalwhinnie with crab, which masks the metallic taste of the seafood with its citrusy flavor and leaves a lasting taste in the mouth
- Cragganmore with langoustine, which helps balance the malt’s sweet taste
- Dry-aged Ribeye with Islay Scotch, which helps complement the malt’s smoky flavor with its own
Yes, cheese pairs very well with whisky too. Let’s take a look at a few of pairing whisky:
- Lagavulin and Roquefort – The malt’s fruity sweetness pairs well with the sharp taste of cheese and balances its tanginess.
- Talisker and 24-month ripened Comté – The fruity and savory notes of the cheese blend well with the sappy wood and honeyed toasted oak flavor of the malt. The hint of lime will surprise you, along with the mix of smoky, spicy, and sweet tastes.
- Oban and Saint-Marcellin – The pair of this cheese and whisky is so unique that it will leave you speechless. The salty and creamy flavor of the cheese with hazelnut and milk pairs extraordinarily well with the smoke notes of the malt with a hint of pear cider.
- Cragganmore and Abondance – The flavors of this cheese and whisky combine to give a full fruity, sweet taste. The cheese has light notes of hazelnuts, citrus, pineapple, and apricot, whereas the malt leaves an aftertaste of sandalwood and wood smoke.
- Buffalo Mozzarella and Sherry Cask Single Malt – The sweetness of the sherry pairs well with the cheese’s slight saltiness.
Glenkinchie and Corsican ewe cheese tome and Dalwhinnie and Saint-Nectaire cover delicate palates. The former cheese has a lactic taste and a hidden surprise of olive that reveals itself when you start chewing. The hint of hazelnuts and almonds gives you quite the oaky palate. The latter cheese has a fruity taste and an unmistakable smell of rye straw. As you can guess, the hints of malted bread in the whisky, the liquor, and the cheese go well together. Plus, the aftertaste is smooth and long-lasting.
Lastly, any cheese platter will taste divine with Johnnie Walker® Black Label due to its smoky, full-flavored taste.
Whiskies tend to have a smoky or sweet flavor, which is why it is a little bit difficult to pair them with desserts such as caramels and pastries. Anything that has excessive sugar should not be combined with whisky as it will overpower the malt’s taste.
- A peated whisky such as Laphroaig goes well with chocolate mousse
- Bourbon with pecan cobbler – the strong notes of vanilla and caramel will go well with pecan
- Lemon cake and Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon – The nutty and light flavor of the malt complements the citrusy flavor of the cake quite well
- Fruity, light whiskies pair well with lighter seafood such as cold-smoked salmon, sashimi, and sushi. Consider daintier cheeses and as for desserts, plum or pear tarts make a pairing whisky straight from heaven
- Gamey proteins like lamb and venison with root vegetables pair well with whiskies that have a moderate to medium taste. So does medium-bodied cheeses like Gouda and denser desserts like fruitcake
- Hearty, robust, and assertive flavors pair best with full-bodied whiskies such as smoked oysters, roasted chicken, or duck with peaty whiskies. So do strong cheeses like blue cheese and dark chocolate
- Acidic whiskies pair well with fatty food
- Spicy foods tend to be the toughest. They pair well and only with sweeter whiskies. The reason why zesty whiskies are not recommended is that their taste will overpower the fiery dish
- Dishes with herbs such as mint, sage, cilantro, thyme, and tarragon pair extraordinary fine with herbaceous whiskies
Whiskies have a full-bodied taste compared to wines, which is why pairing whisky with different foods can be a little difficult. However, as we mentioned earlier, always pick light whiskies for seafood and sweet ones for desserts. This way the malt won’t overpower the food’s taste.