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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!
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:
Origin: The US or Ireland (Generally)
Origin: Canada, Japan, or Scotland
...And that’s how you know! Pretty useful, right? Alright, time for lesson 2:
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.
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.
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!
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.
Taste: Mild and light. It’s got a feathery, dulcet flavor that is easy to mix and easier to drink.
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.
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!
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:
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
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
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 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
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, as one of the strongest, goes great with rich and fatty foods.
Appetizers: Gouda, parmesan,
Entrees: Meatloaf, ribeye steak
Dessert: Pecan pie, apple desserts
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'.
Avoid these at all costs if you want to have the whiskey tasting of the century!
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