Matching whisky and food - How they work together
Whisky as a food match
Whisky may not be the first thing that springs to mind as a natural food match, but in fact the extraordinary variations in flavour and aroma make it an extremely versatile accompaniment.
Whisky can complement food in two different ways:
Firstly it can work with the food to enhance a certain flavour. For instance Lark Distilleries cask strength whisky brings out the citrusy orange notes in a pan roasted duck breast dressed with a vinaigrette made from balsamic, olive oil and a little if the whisky. The astringency of the whisky also cuts through the greasiness of the duck.
Secondly the flavours can work harmoniously; pair a fresh oyster with a mouthful of smoky Caol Ila and the most extraordinary flavour explosion occurs. The whisky takes some of the fishiness out of the oyster and the creamy oyster tones down the fieriness of the whisky – a perfect symbiosis.
It is not an exact science, and although there are some classic matches you often have to taste by trial and error. We’re obviously lucky at The Whisky Shop as we have many whiskies to choose from. There is nothing more fun than sampling a whisky, identifying the aromas and flavours you experience and then working out a recipe to go with it. Recently we were given a bottle of New Zealand made Milford 20 yo whisky and I noticed a definite almond or marzipan note to the nose. That is how I arrived at a recipe for Bakewell Tart which has an almond based Frangipane filling. The best way to sample it is to take a bite of the pie, then just as you swallow the last morsel, drink a little of the whisky. The taste is initially slightly astringent and then the almond flavours open up to a full hit.
Pairing whisky with food
Although it is difficult to generalise over a food match for whisky, the following combinations usually work well.
Lowland whiskies are the mildest in flavour, grassy, smooth, fresh and citrus. They will get lost if paired with food that is too strong in flavour, but work well with softer matches. Try rolling a ripe piece of melon in some prosciutto and eating it with a Rosebank whisky.
Highland whiskies are smooth and sweet, occasionally faintly smoky. Glengoyne 17 makes the perfect companion to a salad made from mesclun and rocket, caramelised walnuts and fresh pear batons with Kikorangi blue cheese, dressed with raspberry vinaigrette.
Speyside whiskies again are sweet and smooth, and often have a little white pepper or spice on the back palate. The go extremely well with strong flavoured cheeses: Awa blue, Smoked Maplewood cheddar, parmesan etc. Mild flavoured cheeses do nothing for them and they can become fiery if paired with hot spicy foods.
Island whiskies tend to have flavours reminiscent of seaweed and iodine with a hint of heather and smoke. They will usually pair beautifully with smoked fish and cheese and with mild chilli flavours.
Islay whisky, famous for its smoky peaty whisky. We have already mentioned raw oyster with Caol Ila, but another classic match is chocolate. One of our most popular finger foods at our tastings is a fresh date, stuffed with coffee beans and coated in dark chocolate
Using whisky as an Ingredient
Another way to combine the flavours of whisky with food is to use it as an ingredient. Here are some ideas:
- Add smoky Islay whisky to a chocolate mousse
- Use a sweet and spicy whisky as a substitute for Drambuie when making a crepe suzette, or use it to add spark to the base of syrup soaked into a moist carrot cake.
- Soak dried fruit in sherried whisky and add to cakes
- Try adding Speyside whisky to a rich mustard creamy sauce and served with a peppered steak.
- Use whisky in marinades and salad dressings.
So next time you are offered a dram of whisky, stop and consider what you are experiencing, what familiar flavours and aromas you can detect, then have a little fun with some food.