To pair or not to pair is the question of the day. For many, whisky is a drink to be savored on its own; for others, served over ice or blended with a liquid additive such as water, mixer, or soda. For us at WOW, the answer is determined by what expression of whisky you’re pairing with which food.

Is it appropriate to pair whisky with food? YES! Like wine, whisky pairs well with many foods, but due to the complexities within the distilling method and final product, one needs to plan accordingly. Unlike some who say there are wine standards – white wine with fish, red wine with meat, very few whiskies are alike. One can’t say, “Oh, it’s from Scotland, let’s pair it with xxx.” Of the current 120 distilleries in Scotland, very few are going to taste the same.

Thanks to whisky connoisseurs, pairing foods which go well with whisky, Bourbon, Scotch, or Rye, is gaining popularity. To pair the whiskey with food, you should have a basic idea of the classes and types as the flavor of whisky varies: from light to full-bodied; a touch of sweetness; fruit or citrus notes; strong peat, earthy and/or smoky notes. The whisky you choose should complement and elevate the food you choose to have the best tasting experience.

For example, Bourbon has a hint of vanilla and caramelized sweetness so it goes well with foods having a similar component. To make it a little easier for you, the general rule of thumb is: Light whiskies go well with seafood or spicy meals. Medium whiskies pair well with high protein meals, whereas full bodied whiskies go well with hearty dishes containing high-fat content.

Here are some of the top foods which pair well with different types of whisky:

  • Dark Chocolate: Chocolate and whisky really complement each other. Instead of opting for sweet sugary chocolate go for good quality dark chocolate. Experiment with chocolates and its recipes; mix and match till you find the perfect match for your palate. Dark orange flavored chocolate is a good choice to experiment with earthy scotch such as a mild peat or with sherry cask, as these expressions enhances the orange flavor of the chocolate. Plain dark chocolate and strong whiskies go well together due to they enhance the subtleties found in each, such as vanilla, hazelnut, leather or stone fruit, while milk chocolates work well with either spicy spirits such as rye whiskies, oak cask whiskies and slightly salty whiskies. Salted hazelnut chocolates go well with Single malt Scotch whiskey. Whereas America’s favorite bourbon goes well with almost all kind of chocolates.
  • Cheese: Whisky and cheese share so many things in common. Both are aged and come in a variety of flavors. Cheddar, with its tangy, salty goodness pairs well with whisky having a smoky flavor or a wheat based bourbon, while a strong blue cheese you’d want a spicier spirit such as rye whiskey or an earthy whisky which notes of grasses, leather or briny flavor. Soft cheese such as brie or goat cheese goes well with light fragrant whiskies with a touch of sweetness.
  • Dried Fruits and nuts: You can’t ever go wrong with dried fruits and nuts. On their own, or mix and matched, like Trail Mix, just keep the flavor palates in mind. What’s the flavor of nuts or berries your serving? Know this, and you’ll be able to pair a complementary whisky. For example, sweeter nuts go well with strong peaty whisky, whereas sweeter whisky pairs well with bitter flavors. Smoky whiskies and roasted nuts — well, do we need to spell this out? If you go for a pre-mix party pack, read the label carefully as you’ll want to know the mix [first listed will be the main portion of the mix] and look to see how salted the mix is as this will determine which expression of spirit you’ll use to pair.
  • Grilled Steaks: Whisky, bourbon, and steaks can never go wrong when served together. Know your piece of beef, how you’re going to serve it, then decide what whisky you want to pair it with. You may need to experiment a bit as the fat content of the meat and/or sauce it’s served with will be a deciding factor from a lighter scotch or bourbon or a heavier, peated scotch or spicy rye. For instance, a leaner steak pairs well with bourbon, while a heavily marbled or Kobe beef would pair better with a more robust whisky.
  • Meatloaf: Meatloaf goes well with strong peaty whiskeys. The high alcohol content and spiciness of full-bodied whiskeys, like a flavorful single malt whiskey or rye whiskey, goes well with rich, fatty dishes like meatloaf. Healthy meatloaf served with barbecue sauce goes well with strong whiskeys.
  • Smoked Salmon: Smoked Salmon marries well with whisky with high rye or wheat content, or light single malts from Japan, France, Irish or Canadian, whereas if you have wild caught salmon give bourbon a try to enhance the sweetness of fish. We’ll talk about other fish and seafood pairings in another segment.
  • Apple Crumble or Apple pie: Oh, my, apple pie! Brown Betty, crumbles, deep dish or plain apple — we think all whisky goes with apples. From light floral whisky to heavy peat, savory bourbons or spicy rye. Apples and whisky are a match made in heaven. Our advice? Pick what you like, as it all goes together well.

For our parting thoughts, here’s a few things you should know. You don’t have to be a food connoisseur to have whisky parties at your home. If you don’t know the basic flavor characteristics of the spirit, it’s okay to play with your food.