Red wine goes with red meat, white wine goes with fish, and milk goes with cereal. But what does whisky go with? Clearly, wine isn’t the only drink capable of being the perfect match for food. Whisky’s multiple flavour attributes and versatility means it can partner with and enhance a great number of different dishes – from smoked fish or a rich, gamey stew to a spicy curry or a creamy dessert.
So what sort of food do you serve with this gentlemanly drink to enjoy it to its fullest potential? What goes well with their complex tastes and doesn't overwhelm nor embitter them? We asked a few food and beverage experts on their favourite matches.
There are just about as many styles, flavours and variations of whisky as there are of wine. For wine drinkers, though, there is a pretty much agreed upon universal set of rules when it comes to pairing wine with food. For example, even those who know little about wine know the basics such as serving white wine with fish, or red wine with steak. Similarly, whisky, too, has a few basic rules that will guide you into your new endeavor of whisky and food pairings.
“When choosing a whisky to pair with food, you’ll need to assess its flavour characteristics. For example, is it spicy, sweet, smoky or citrusy? This is going to impact the type of food you pair it with. Basically, the core flavours in the whisky will amplify those natural flavours in the food,” explains Arjun Chaudhary, Bar expert and founder of Wolf Of Bar Street.
Pairing whisky with food usually follows the same rules as wine: stronger, spicier whisky goes well with stronger flavours, while lighter single malts work better with delicate flavours.
Stronger, full-bodied whisky such as Johnnie Walker Double Black
The high alcohol content and spiciness of full-bodied whisky like a flavourful single malt or rye whisky, marry well with rich, fatty dishes. “Bacon, chicken liver pate, roast chicken with rosemary, mushrooms, scallops, oysters and duck pair very well with full bodied whisky. Beef or lamb made with herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage also go very well as these herbs are a perfect match with the whisky, explains Arjun. When it comes to serving meat, simplicity works best. You don't want to overwhelm the taste buds with both: a strong whisky and a heavily spice-rubbed meat drowned in hot barbecue sauce. Strong cheeses (Roquefort) or dark chocolate are also an excellent choice for such a whisky.
Medium Bodied whisky such as Johnnie Walker Black Label
“Food should be paired with whisky in a manner so that neither the whisky nor the food dominate or overwhelm the flavours of the other. Rather, they should complement each other’s flavor and help elevate the experience. When pairing food with medium bodied whisky one has to ensure that it does not dominate the drink,” advises Gaurish Rangnekar, Founder Barmobile a pioneering mobile bar tending company. He suggests pairing this type of whisky with desserts such as Tiramisu and Eclairs as it has a hint of coffee and vanilla. High protein meals are also a match made in heaven for medium bodied whisky.
Light, fruity whiskies such as Singleton of Glen Ord 12 YO
This type of whisky pairs best with lighter seafood. “Fresh salmon which is delicate and rich in flavour pairs very well with a light and floral whisky. The slightly earthy notes of the drink compliment the fragrant and subtle notes of the salmon. It is not overpowering, which is what one is looking for when pairing whisky with fish,” explain menu curators Sunaeyaa Kapur and Shweta Menon. Raw preparations such as tartare, sashimi and sushi also pair beautifully, they say. Also consider daintier cheeses. Of course, pear or plum tarts seem like a match made in heaven. Fruits and berries play well with lighter, floral whiskies, such as the ones made in Japan.
Smokey whisky such as Talisker 10 YO
A beautiful cheese board, with some crackers will make for a fine snack to accompany your choice of smoky whisky. Go for a strong cheese like Roquefort. Or, if you’d prefer to make a full meal, choose a simple way to cook your meat. You need to be careful not to overwhelm the taste buds by serving a smoky whisky combined with a heavily spiced meat. Rather opt for a slow-roast with delicate flavours that will perfectly balance out the smokiness of the whisky.
“It’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to whiskey and food pairings, the ultimate goal is to balance the contrasting flavours. If one dominates the other in flavor, it will result in an overwhelming and unpleasant experience,” explains Gaurish. With that in mind, embark in the wonderful world of whiskey and indulge in the culinary adventures of what a thoughtfully curated whiskey pairing can do for your palate.
Things to remember
1) Anything very spicy, bitter or laden with garlic should be avoided as it will kill some of the flavours in the whisky. These flavours can stick to the tongue and reduce your ability to appreciate the subtleties in your dram.
2) Quite simply, whisky also goes very well with salty snacks. Think simple bar snacks like crisps, peanuts, crackling, etc. The salt will enhance the taste of the whisky, without overpowering it.
3) If you or your guests have a sweet tooth, go for some dark chocolate when sipping on your post-dinner whisky. Chocolate is a great partner to whisky, and the darker, the better.
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