Whisky & food pairing
Given whiskies’ aromatic richness, it is easy to see why one might want to associate them with different flavours and create interesting pairings. Whisky tasting is therefore not limited to sensory assessment and the experience can be extended to include a complementary pairing with various sweet or savoury dishes.
Which foods can be paired with whisky?
The Irish have for a long time successfully married their whiskeys with smoked salmon, and the Scots with their national dish, haggis. There are also a large number of recipes which use whisky as an ingredient, for example in sauces and marinades. These alliances are particularly interesting for whisky enthusiasts, as they play on the dominant aromas and individuality of each single malt. It is not therefore always possible to substitute one single malt for another, nor even, sometimes, one expression for another, even though both malts come from the same distillery.
The most obvious single malt pairings are inspired by Scotland’s land itself. When we taste some of the whiskies from the coast or the islands, we see that almost all of them have a marine character with varying levels of iodine and saltiness. The presence of these aromas therefore creates an essential link between whiskies and certain dishes. The Islay single malts, whose marine influence is most notable, pair well with smoked fish and seafood. We highly recommend you try prawns or scallops flambéed with Laphroaig or Bowmore.
In order to reveal the special characteristics of their single malts through original pairings, the Classic Malts have developed, in collaboration with master chefs, an entire concept of buffet dinners matched with whisky. This game of associations aims essentially to surprise enthusiasts by inviting them to discover a new and almost infinite range of sensations. Lagavulin is paired with oysters for a peaty, iodine marriage that brings out the malt’s seaweed notes. Wild Scottish salmon makes it possible to bring out the spicy, peppery and, of course, smoky aromas of Talisker. And for the coastal single malt Oban, its aromas of sea salt, figs and polish are matched perfectly with avruga (herring roe). But the experience doesn’t end with single malts that have an undeniable marine influence. Even lowland and highland single malt can offer surprising gastronomic matches: Glenkinchie and razor clams, Dalwhinnie and crab, and Cragganmore and langoustine. But why stop there? The creativity of chefs and master cheesemakers has also led to a variety of pairings. Of course, it’s more often wines that are paired with cheese, but whisky can also make a great addition to a cheese plate. Lagavulin and Roquefort, Talisker and 24-month ripened Comté, Oban and Saint-marcellin, Cragganmore and Abondance, Dalwhinnie and Saint-nectaire or Glenkinchie and a Corsican ewe cheese tomme have all conquered the most delicate palates. Naturally, the choice of bread is also important, and to add the finishing touches to these pairings, various other ingredients can be added to the mix.
What about whisky with dinner?
Is it possible to replace wine with whisky at the dinner table? Taking inspiration from the work of top whisky enthusiast chefs it is entirely possible to accompany each dish of a meal with a different whisky. And that’s exactly what Aberlour has begun doing at the Saint-Hubert festival, which is attended by a large number of Michelin starred chefs: each dish is paired with a different expression of this Speyside single malt. The different Johnnie Walker expressions have also been enhanced through meals, at which it is essential to ensure that the whisky is served according to the rules of the art every time: temperature and dilution are of primary importance and it is imperative to follow the recipe to the letter. Even before French gastronomy influenced the scene in this way, the Japanese already had a tradition of accompanying fish dishes with a whisky served ‘mizuwari’ style, i.e. diluted with water by two thirds and accompanied by a couple of ice cubes to give it an alcoholic strength similar to that of wine. Obviously this can’t be done with all whiskies, but as the Japanese already have this tradition, they often produce whiskies that are particularly well-suited to food pairing once diluted in this way.
Which whiskies go best with dessert?
The main difficulty with matching whisky and desserts, whether they are pastries, chocolate or caramels, lies not only in the search for aromas that can compliment or contrast, but also in the difficulty of respecting the different flavours and textures. In fact, one of the main rules is to banish anything with excessive sugar so that the aromas can combine better on the palate, and above all to stop that feeling of fullness that can have a negative impact on the pairing. The easiest matches are created using chocolate. On the Isle of Islay for example, one of the local specialities is a chocolate mousse made with peated whisky. Indeed, the smoky aromas of whiskies go extremely well with dark chocolate. It is also possible to make peated whisky ice cream and to accompany it with caramel or salted butter, with the salt also acting as a connection in this particular instance. We strongly recommend you try out pairings at home between your single malts and fruit tarts, and between American whiskeys and chocolate.