Wade Cothran | Aug 06, 2020

How to Pair Whiskey with Food: 5 Tips for Beginners

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Whiskey and food pairing is one heck of an overlooked art form nowadays. To say that most people neglect the possibilities that a well-paired whiskey and meal combo can provide would be an understatement. 

As far as food pairing goes, wine has been hogging the limelight for centuries… and we’ve written this article as a way of saying “Enough!” It’s high time that we whiskey fans get together, fill our BruMate whiskey glasses with our favorite whiskey, and start pairing!

After all, it makes perfect sense: when carried out correctly and thoughtfully, with just a few guidelines and a bit of know-how in place, whiskey, and food - matched together with care - is every bit as good as anything wine can achieve. 

Most of the time, food and whiskey are brought together in one of two time-honored ways: the whiskey finds itself cooked into a cream sauce, which is then poured over your meat. Don’t get us wrong: this can be something delicious. However, it’s not something you want to be doing with your best bottle of single malt. The other way? That usually involves the whiskey being poured over a pudding of some sort and then set on fire, destroying the whiskey entirely.

What. A. Waste. 

Many of us, quite understandably, feel a little hesitant when it comes to food and whiskey pairing in the real sense - that is, pouring some of the good stuff to be enjoyed directly alongside your dinner, rather than as an ingredient within it. This hesitation comes down to one simple fact: it’s something most of us aren’t used to doing. 

Don’t worry - we’re on hand to provide you with the basics of food and whiskey pairing, and once you’ve learned these key fundamentals, you’ll find yourself ready to explore the possibilities of food and whiskey pairing for yourself and your guests. Before long, you’ll be considered the ultimate dinner party host; he or she who goes the extra mile and never fails to pull out the big guns when it comes to flavor and satisfaction!

That’s right: we’re looking at our top five tips for food and whiskey pairing that are nothing short of game-changing, especially for anyone who lacks the confidence to go it alone. Ready? Read on and find out all you need to know!


Whiskey Pairing Tips

Get to Know Your Whisky: Harmonies and Contrasts

If you take away anything from this article, let it be that the secret to successful food and whiskey pairings is all about focusing in on those harmonies and contrasts… and in order to hit the high notes in this regard, you’re going to need a decent understanding of the characteristics of your chosen whiskeys. 

So, first thing’s first: get your glass and make some detailed notes on the bottles you’ve collected, and start thinking carefully about the notes you’ll be highlighting in your pairings. Easy!


Consider Regions and their Characteristics

This relates more to Scotch than other whiskeys, as the key regions of the Scotch Single Malt industry all have identifiable characteristics and typical flavor profiles that have developed over the centuries. The result? Distinct groupings of quality whiskeys, which are as recognizable as they are beloved, making it easy to pair them with delicious ingredients. 

When you’re seeking out whiskeys to match up with your food, basing your decisions on regional characteristics is probably the most straightforward place to start, allowing you to cut a few corners and base your dinner party on some easy options that lead to food pairing perfection. 

Here’s a tip to get you started: Speyside whiskeys tend to have a toasty and fruity character, and exude that delicious flavor of honey and burnt sugar. Yum! This means they’re ideal for pairing with desserts and for any dishes which call out for a balancing essence of sweetness. On the other side of the scale, Islay whiskeys are peated and have a smoky, salty flavor. As a result, they’re great with shellfish, smoked salmon, and barbecued fish dishes. 

Remember the Secondary and Tertiary Tasting Notes

It’s tempting - and often a good idea - to stick closely to those obvious, clear, and powerful primary flavors when it comes to pairing whiskey with your dinner. This tends to lead to real crowd-pleasing combos that never fail. Smoked salmon and Islay Single Malt, as just mentioned, would be a good example of this. 

However, it’s really important to remember that every single whiskey has a complex flavor profile and contains layer upon layer of flavor that can help you select your pairing partners. Once you begin digging around for those secondary and tertiary flavors and aromas, the list of ingredients to pair with starts to expand and lengthen, meaning new possibilities for flavor perfection in every bite and sip.


Whiskey Tasting

Be Bold With Your Cooking Techniques

They say that fortune favors the bold, and whiskey loves being paired with unusual combinations and interesting cooking techniques. Whiskey especially has an affinity for pickling, smoking, fermenting, and curing - all techniques related to frozen Scottish winters and their traditional cuisines - so don’t be scared to work some magic in your kitchen and start using some strongly-flavored ingredients in your cooking. The same can be said for spicing, too: whiskey loves cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger, and these kinds of spices rarely disappoint when it comes to your pairings. 


Pairing Whiskey with Bold Flavors

Texture is Important

Texture is really important when it comes to food, despite often playing second fiddle to flavor and aroma. Want an example? Think about a tuna mayo sandwich. This lunchtime staple varies massively depending on the texture of the bread you use, despite the fact that the bread isn’t the key ingredient. Made with processed white sliced bread, it’s a soggy mess. Repeat the sandwich recipe, but this time, use a decent piece of freshly baked ciabatta to introduce crunch and crispness, and voila! Sandwich perfection every time. 

Whiskeys may be liquids, but they have noticeable textural differences, too. Keeping this in mind when it comes to your pairings can make a big difference, and being able to differentiate the creamy from the watery, the silky from the rough, and the rounded from the thin can allow you to pair more successfully with your food and the ‘weight’ of the ingredients in the mouth. Remember, both harmony and contrast are key, so play around, experiment, and explore, and you’ll soon come up with some impressive matches that will help you level up your entire dinner party experience. 

Whiskey Texture

Give Whisky Pairing a Try for Yourself!

You know what else levels up dinner parties? Interesting, innovative, and effective glassware. Brumate takes a huge amount of pride in producing wine, beer, and whiskey glasses that really add a new dimension to your drinking experience. Fun, beautiful, and great for maintaining the ideal temperature, they’re an exciting product that never fails to hit the high notes. Check them out today!