The Art of Whiskey Pairing: What Food Goes Best with Whiskey?

Blog written by Mixology & Craft.

Whiskey is the hardened father of alcohols: strong, weathered, and emotionally absent. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a complex and delicate series of flavors. A lot of people associate whiskey with whatever brown liquor is thrown in their direction at a bar, but the reality is whiskey is not just one type of alcohol - it’s a broad term for several different subcategories, all with their own unique flavor. 

So with all of these variations, how are us normal peasant folk supposed to know what pairs well with whiskey? Well, luckily for us, the internet exists and I’ve compiled many facts to share with you. 

We’re going to go over all the different types of our favorite brown liquor, some spelling differentiation, the best food and whiskey pairings, the best glasses, and some common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid if you don’t want to be mercilessly roasted by your liquor drinking friends. 

Let’s get guzzlin, gang!

Whiskey 101: Is it Whiskey or Whisky?

Before we get to actual whiskey pairings, we should probably nail down how to spell it. I added this in here for my own learning, because I had previously assumed that the US was probably spelling it wrong or adding an extra ‘e’ for no other reason than to complicate things, as we so often do.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the difference is regional! It’s actually an easy way to figure out where the whiskey came from, which is pretty cool: 

Spelt “Whiskey” 

Origin: The US or Ireland (Generally)

Spelt “Whisky” 

Origin: Canada, Japan, or Scotland

...And that’s how you know! Pretty useful, right? Alright, time for lesson 2: 

Whiskey 102: How Many Types of Whiskey Are There?

Oh, so many! Like, way more than I thought! Like, 4 more than I thought! So before we find out what pairs well with whiskey, let’s go through some super important flavor differences that will help us find their perfect pair. 

Scotch Whisky - Origin: Scotland (duh)

  • Scotch is made most often with either malt or grain, and comes from a place that takes it very seriously - many distilleries in Scotland have to undergo pretty serious tests to ensure they’re creating Scotch in just the right way. 

Taste: Sharp and distinct. A lot of people find scotch to be a bit of an acquired taste, but blended scotch is a bit smoother with a spicy finish. 

Irish Whiskey - Origin: Ireland (DUH)

  • Irish whiskey is made with malt, and can only be distilled in a wooden cask with water and caramel coloring for at least 3 years. However, those 3 years are worth it, because it creates an incredibly pleasant drinking experience. 

Taste: Light and fruity. Irish whiskey has hints of floral scents and vanilla, making it a great starter whiskey! It’s great on its own or in a cocktail! 

Japanese Whisky - Origin: Japan (Are you seeing a pattern yet?)

  • This late-to-the-game but just-as-delicious whisky is known throughout the liquor land for its high standards and higher quality. It was created to be as close to scotch as possible, so the distilling methods are super similar. However, Japanese whisky is one of the most favored whiskey pairings, as it has a wide flavor profile. 

Taste: Fruity and floral. You’ll find notes of honey, white chocolate, and orange peel, as well as honey. Overall, it’s relatively sweet and easy to drink alone or as a cocktail.

Canadian Whisky - Origin: Canada

  • Canadian whisky is also aged for at least 3 years before serving. This kind of whisky is lighter, smoother, and easier to drink than most other whiskies, as it has a high corn content. 

Taste: Mild and light. It’s got a feathery, dulcet flavor that is easy to mix and easier to drink.

Bourbon Whiskey - Origin: USA

  • This whiskey is prepped in the good ol’ U S of A, and has a very specific distilling method - in order for it to be bourbon, it has to be at least 51% corn, aged in a new oak barrel, produced in the US, and bottled at 80 proof or higher. 

Taste: Sweet and smooth. With strong notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak. It also has a bit of a spicy finish, as most American whiskies do. 

Rye Whiskey - Origin: USA 

  • Rye whiskey is another American classic, made with 51% rye, corn, and barley. It has a very similar distilling method to bourbon. It’s seen in the whiskey circles as a bit more of a ‘hardcore’ whiskey, so not great to start with. 

Taste: Spicy and grainy. This is for the pros who can take all that whiskey has to offer. If you do get past the spice and alcohol taste, you may find a pleasant, warm experience hiding underneath! 

What Pairs Well with Whiskey?

Like most things in life, the answer to this is more complicated than it seems. We’ve already covered the types, so let’s break down this list in the same way:

For Scotch:

Finding the right food pairings with scotch is simple: avoid citrus, and stick to bold, strong, and smoky flavors: 

Appetizers: Smoky cheese, hummus, fruit (no citrus!)

Entree: Grilled or smoked meat, such as steak or BBQ

Dessert: Anything chocolate, apple pie 

For Irish Whiskey: 

Irish whiskey pairs great with seafood and meals on the spicier side:

Appetizers: Blue cheese, soda bread with butter

Entrees: Smoked salmon, Hawaiian pizza, lamb with mint jelly

Dessert: Dark chocolate fondue, shortbread 

For Japanese Whisky: 

Not surprisingly, Japanese whisky pairs great with Japanese foods and flavor palettes: 

Appetizers: Pickled plums, prunes, salad

Entrees: Raw fish, sushi, prawns, pork belly

Dessert: Dried fruits, Kohi Zeri (coffee jelly), mildly sweet cake

Canadian Whisky: 

Canadian whisky is perfect with oily and fatty foods, cheeses, and seafood - which works well, because Canada has a lot of those kinds of things. 

Appetizers: Canadian bacon, blue cheese

Entrees: Smoked salmon, tilapia, roasted meats 

Dessert: Maple flavored desserts like pecan pie, candied bacon, maple pancakes 

Bourbon Whiskey: 

Finding the best bourbon food pairings is often the easiest, as it’s the sweetest of the whiskies! Anything sweet, smoky, and spicy will pair excellently. 

Appetizers: Sweet potatoes, anything nutty

Entrees: Bacon, ham, bratwurst

Dessert: Chocolate, ice cream, brownies, caramel

Rye Whiskey: 

Rye whiskey, as one of the strongest, goes great with rich and fatty foods. 

Appetizers: Gouda, parmesan, 

Entrees: Meatloaf, ribeye steak

Dessert: Pecan pie, apple desserts

Whiskey Pairing Mistakes to Avoid

I’m sure you can see a pattern when looking up at the pairing list - whiskey, in general, pairs great with cheese, meat, and chocolate. However, presentation is just as important as whiskey pairing - so be sure to avoid the mistake of putting your whiskey in any old glass. 

Instead, try these whiskey glasses - they come with their own box, tongs, and whiskey stones to keep your drink nice and cool. 

Learn more about whiskey stones with 'The Beginner’s Guide to Whiskey Stones'.

What NOT to Eat with Whiskey:

  • Dairy
  • Burgers (shockingly)
  • Fried foods
  • Pretzels 
  • Red sauce (in pastas) 
  • Citrus fruits
  • Super spicy foods 

  • Avoid these at all costs if you want to have the whiskey tasting of the century! 

    Final Thoughts

    Overall, meats and sweets are the way to go with whiskey. Citrus and dairy, however, will lead you on a road to sour flavor that nobody wants. Whether you’re sipping for yourself or prepping a party, be sure to pair your whiskey correctly! 

    Oh, and be sure to check out our website for even more whiskey and cocktail sets, tips, and tricks!

    Contributing Writer: Aurora Detor and Barron Detor