Whisky with food

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The idea of drinking whisky with food is considered "outre" by many, but there is a growing interest in pairing whiskies with complementary foods.[1] The Scotch whisky industry has been keen to promote this.[2]


Whisky and food[edit]

Many people are skeptical about the idea of enjoying whiskey with a meal.[3] This is in contrast to other alcoholic beverages such as wine, ale, and beer that have a dated history of being consumed with meals. In the past, consuming whisky with a meal was not influenced by fashion, but by social and geographical position: in the Scottish Lowlands, whisky was consumed only by those at the bottom of the social scale, whereas the upper class would enjoy claret or rum punch with their food[citation needed]. Speaking from a geographical standpoint, whisky was consumed more often in colder climates because of the warming effect it has on the body[citation needed]. Today there are a growing number of connoisseurs who pair whiskies with specific foods in order to enhance the flavour of both[citation needed]. This is reflected by the increasing number of books and websites specifically dedicated to whisky and food pairings.

Whisky and cooking[edit]

Few Scottish cook books contain reference to the use of whisky in cooking. There are only a few traditional recipes such as cranachan[4] or trifle. Then there is Burns Night, with the tradition of pouring a shot of whisky over the haggis.[citation needed] Lastly, most cooks and professional chefs only consider the use of brandy, sherry, or port in the cooking process. There are many theories as to why whisky has been overlooked for a long time. One theory is that whisky was considered too precious a drink and its use in cooking would be a sacrilege. On the other hand, another theory said that whisky was its own worst enemy, because of its harsh flavours and aromas. Today chefs and cooks are experimenting more with whisky in recipes. In Kentucky, a bourbon-style cooking school has been established by Jim Beam with demonstrations each September at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

Whisky flavours and aromas[edit]

Single malts, pot-still whiskies, bourbons, and rye whiskies offer an interesting range of tastes and aromas, which are just as varied as wine. Jake Wallis Simons compares whiskies in bourbon casks to white wines, due to their lighter flavor, and those in sherry casks to red wines, with their greater fruitiness.[1]

When pairing whisky with food, the characteristics of the meal it will compliment need to be taken into consideration. If a highly medicinal single malt, such as a Laphroaig, is paired with an apple crumble, the experience will be a disaster. Therefore, whisky drinkers and food enthusiasts need to approach the whisky with food experience with a strong sense of realism. Thus, a fresh, light-bodied Lowland single malt will go well with a fish dish. A heavier, more aromatic whisky will go well with beef or duck. Lighter, fruitier Japanese whiskies like Yamazaki (best served chilled) go well with tuna and salmon in sushi and sashimi dishes. These combinations illustrate that there has to be a balance between the competing flavours, so that neither the whisky or the dish are allowed to dominate and snuff out the flavours of the other. Instead: Compliment and enhance. Other examples include; A smoky, peaty or peppery whisky which goes well with oysters and smoked fish. There are "sweet and sour" pairings. Chilli heat can be matched to sweetness in some whiskies. Lastly, an acidic whisky can cut through a very sweet dish as well as neutralizing excessive fat or richness in other dishes.



Seafood dishes such as scallops go well with sweet, light, vanilla-tinged malts matured in bourbon casks.[1] In general, smoky whiskies such as Islay malts go well with fish, and are often drank with oysters.[1]


Sushi can be paired with a variety of whiskies, but Whisky Magazine found Talisker came out on top in testing.[5] Ardbeg is also recommended, due to its salty, briny quality.[6]

Red meat[edit]

A rich, sherried whisky like Auchentoshan Three Wood can be drunk with steak.[1]

Charcuterie and cold meats.[edit]

Ardbeg's saltiness complements ham and salami.[6]

Indian food[edit]

Indian food, such as that cooked in a tandoor goes well with smoky whiskies.[7]


Sweeter whiskies naturally go better with desserts, such as Mortlach, a Speyside whisky.[1] Benromach (from Speyside) goes well with chocolate.[6] The Macallan (another Speyside malt) also goes well with some desserts.[6]

Complementary flavors[edit]

Cinnamon sticks[edit]

Cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and star anise provide a spice bridge between food and whisky.[citation needed]


Grassy malts are enhanced when a dish contains herbs like tarragon, basil, mint or thyme.[citation needed]


Summer fruits go well with malty, floral Lowland whiskies, while citrus fruits are a good match with peaty Islay malts.[citation needed]

Whisky and food pairings[edit]

Summary of whisky with food[edit]

A) Food with strong, peaty whiskies[edit]

Strong, peaty whiskies such as the Islay whiskies; Lagavulin and the Bruichladdich distillery, are ideal matches with tea-smoked chicken, teriyaki salmon, plain dark chocolate, Middle Eastern style lamb meatballs or kofte and haggis and strong blue cheese.

B) Food with medium bodied rich whiskies aged in sherry or European oak casks[edit]

These whiskies go well with rich fruit cakes: Roast venison, especially with caramelised roast root vegetables, ginger biscuits, sticky toffee pudding, mature cheddar, char siu pork and seasoned or grilled steak.

C) Light fragrant whisky with a touch of sweetness[edit]

The distilleries that brew such whisky are the Knochando distillery, the Jura distillery, the Glenfiddich distillery and the Glenkinchie distillery, and others. Such whisky goes well with sushi, smoked salmon, parsnip soup, bread and butter pudding, cranachan, Collen skink (smoked haddock soup), goat's cheese and cream cheese.

Whisky and cooking[edit]

Whisky is ideal for cooking in stir fries or any Asian cooking and as a finishing to a dish, such as the haggis on Burns Night. Whisky can be used as a marinade and also in fruit salads and traditional fruit cake. Whisky can be used in the French cooking method flambé or can be used in place of flambé itself: Islay malt whisky can be used to glaze sauteed scollops or langoustines after they have been taken off the heat.[citation needed]

Chef Paul Rankin often uses whisky in his cooking.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Simons, Jake Wallis (18 Jan 2013). "Burns Night: care for a whisky with your steak, sir?". The Telegraph (UK). 
  2. ^ Buxton, Ian (November 5, 2010). "Dabbler Soup – Whisky and food". The Dabbler. 
  3. ^ Beckett, Fiona (November 30, 2012). "Pairings: Which foods pair best with whisky?". Matching Food & Wine. 
  4. ^ "Whisky recipes". BBC Food. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "A fishy tale". Whisky Magazine. October 2003. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Whisky brands recommend food pairings". Harpers magazine. 7 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Naraynen, Prema (Jan 27, 2013). "Whisky goes great with vegetarian food". Times of India. 
  8. ^ "A spicier side of Ireland". Whisky Magazine. July 2004. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 

See also[edit]