Most experts agree you should enjoy whiskey neat. In past times in the US, it was considered “incorrect” to have something to eat while drinking whiskey. However, in European and Asian countries, it is the norm to have whiskey with your meal.
Whiskey is a sumptuous, sometimes intense drink, and sometimes you need something to break through. This brings us to the question, what food goes with whiskey?
Snacks such as nuts, chocolate, fruits, or crackers can be served if you’re just kicking back and relaxing. The main courses present some interesting options, such as sushi, grilled steak, meatloaf, or even haggis. Desserts such as apple pie, apple crumble, or a classic Tarte Tatin create the opportunity to explore sweet-tasting whiskeys.
We will look at some whiskey recommendations for the snack, main course, and dessert choices—bringing out the best in both the food and the whiskey.
Foods To Have With Whiskey
Our focus will be on food and whiskey pairings rather than a tasting event where the focus falls almost solely on the whiskey. We will cover three options: snacks, main courses, and desserts.
If you like to kick back and relax with a dram and good company but feel peckish, some light refreshments would be the way to go. Snacks and whiskey go a long way if you prefer nothing heavy to eat but wish to satisfy that little hungry spot you might be feeling.
Usually, plain or salted crackers are a pleasant call because it provides a neutral base for enjoying the whiskey’s taste. Salted crackers also work well with salty whiskeys because salt is a natural flavor enhancer.
Of course, cheese is another wonderful option. The fat in cheese coats the palate, and the whiskey again cuts through this.
Options to consider are aged cheddar for whiskeys with a smokey or peaty flavor, intense blue cheeses like Roquefort or Blue Stilton complement sweeter-tasting and fragrant whiskeys.
Try to include some Gouda, Havarti, Brie, Camembert, Swiss, and some strong American cheddar–a variety of cheese on a board ensures everyone picks something they like.
Nuts providing a contrast to the whiskey is another option. Bitter nuts (such as walnuts) usually compliment sweeter-tasting whiskeys, while smoky/peaty whiskeys pair well with roasted nuts or sweet-tasting nuts (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts). Plain, roasted, and salted peanuts are also great options.
Chocolate and whiskey are pleasant companions, but try to avoid milk chocolates and go for dark chocolate. Fruits are a healthier option; apples and pears are the best options. Avoid citrus fruits as these will clash with the liquor’s taste and lead to an unpleasant mouth taste.
American whiskeys combined with dried figs and dates will bring out the whiskey’s licorice, cinnamon, and spiced caramel flavors.
Remember that some dried fruits can also impart a bright pineapple or candied orange tone in the whiskey and sometimes a floral aroma that may come across as too intense for some drinkers.
For mains, opt for meat or fish such as salmon. Duck, grilled steaks, dry-aged beef, and roasted chicken also go well with whiskey.
Choose a whiskey with a rich and smoky flavor. Meatloaf is well paired with a rye or single malt whiskey because of the richness and fats in the dish. Leaner cuts make an amiable companion to bourbon.
A hearty haggis paired with a Scottish whisky would not go amiss on Burns Night. Remember to dilute your whisk(e)y slightly to avoid overpowering your mouth with a burning sensation because of the pepper and herbs used in traditional haggis.
Broiled or smoked salmon combines well with high-rye whiskeys such as bourbon. The salmon’s smoky taste imparts the drink a spicy and fruity taste.
As a rule of thumb, lighter smokes will pair well with lighter-colored whiskeys, while they usually pair a heavier smoked salmon with a darker whiskey.
Staying with fish, sushi also makes a wonderful main meal. The combination of flavors (seaweed, soy sauce, ginger, rice with hints of vinegar, and wasabi) makes it an excellent meal to have with whiskey.
Try to find a good Japanese whisky; failing that, Johnnie Walker Blue Label has the balance of sweet and spiciness to complement the sushi’s complex flavor profile.
Stay clear of foods with strong garlic flavors and spicy meals because they can easily mask or overwhelm the delicate taste of whiskey. Digestive problems may occur when you eat citrus and drink whiskey because of the citrus’ acidic nature.
Humble but oh-so-delicious, pumpkin pie is a creamy yet spiced and sweet dessert and plays well with bourbon containing high amounts of rye.
A wheat-containing bourbon is an excellent drink with a cheesecake slice. Bread and butter pudding and Irish whiskey is a match made in dessert heaven.
We mentioned apples as a snack accompaniment to whiskey, but have you considered apple pie, apple crumble, or even a Tarte Tatin?
Rye whiskies are exceptional with an apple pie, while Tennessee whiskey brings out the rich spices (vanilla and cinnamon being the most common) in an apple crumble.
With its caramelized sweetness, Tarte Tatin will also benefit from a Tennessee whiskey. If you find the flavors too overwhelming, try an apple crumble instead. Another alternative would be a pecan pie–just remember it can be rather sweet depending on the recipe.
An almond and pear tart or plum tart are excellent companions to a fruity whiskey as well–some Japanese whiskeys fall into this category.
The golden rule when pairing and enjoying whiskey with food–whether snacks, the main course, or dessert–is the need to complement one another. Whiskey has both delicate and complex flavors and aromas, which may either be enhanced or dulled by what you eat.
We hope you got some ideas on what foods pair well with whiskey. Remember, the key is experimenting and finding what works best for you. Who knows, you may just discover your new favorite flavor combination!