For many, nothing pairs better with whisk(e)y than an empty glass.
It’s not hard to see why. As a stand-alone beverage a good whiskey is pretty much perfect — whether bourbon, scotch, Irish or rye. Some people feel the same about wine, but more commonly it’s seen as a drink that is best accompanied with food (think wine and cheese pairings). Whisk(e)y has just as much potential to pair with food, but it even reaches further than that. I mean, what’s more iconic than a tumbler of scotch and a cigar? There’s nothing wrong with taking your whisk(e)y neat, and drinking it on its own. But you might be missing a whole world of wonderful whisk(e)y augmentations that could expand your horizon.
If you’re looking to delve into whisky pairings, here are a few great places to start:
- Whisk(e)y and Food
There’s lot’s of amazing whisk(e)y and food pairings that would put even the best wine pairing to the test.
Chocolate: It might seem strange, but many consider whisky and chocolate a match made in heaven. Scotch in particular suits chocolate well, notably Islays like Lagavulin 16. The sweetness of chocolate blends and offsets the peat, adding a new dimension to the drink. For the same reason, peated Irish whiskies will also pair well. Dark chocolate is preferable to milk chocolate because its more robust flavor will hold up to the whisk(e)y.
Cheese: While wine has traditionally dominated pairings with cheese, whisk(e)y is a rising star. Its bold flavor is able to go toe-to-toe with even the most flavorful cheeses. As a rule of thumb, try to match the flavor profile of the whisk(e)y to the cheese. Are you sipping a big, bold rye? Try it with a sharp, aged cheddar or a salty parmesan. A more subtle bourbon? Try something a bit creamier like brie. Reserve blue cheese for the bigger, most intense flavors of a sherry-casked or peated whisky.
Haggis: A “Robert Burns Night” is a celebration not only of the poet’s life and works, but of his love for pairing scotch and haggis. While haggis may be off-putting to some, it’s loved by scotch drinkers who appreciate just how well it pairs with whisky. If you’re going to host your own Robert Burns Night, or simply experiment with a haggis and scotch pairing, opt for a young, subtle scotch like a mild Speyside.
- Whisky and Cigars
It’s hard to think of a more iconic pairing than a glass of whisk(e)y and a lit cigar. The image is timeless and cinematic. But there’s more to the pairing than just old-school aesthetics. Cigars and whisky really do pair fantastically. A lot of the same flavor profiles in a good whisk(e)y can be found in a good cigar, and they can complement each other when combined.
While scotch is always seen as the de facto whisky to go with a cigar, bourbon can also be an excellent choice. The charred oak from the barrel in which it’s aged can impart a slight acridity to the whisky which seems to fade in the presence of real smoke. Don’t be afraid to mix and match to discover what pairings are best. Like with food, you don’t want one to overwhelm the other. If you’ve opted for a subtle smoke, try a more subdued dram. If you’re going big and bold, bust out the big guns.
- Whisk(e)y and Cocktails
There’s not much better than pairing whisk(e)y with the appropriate cocktail accouterments. Bitters (like the famous Angostura variety) bring out character in whiskies that aren’t as readily apparent in a straight up dram. A dash of vermouth elevates whisk(e)y in a Manhattan, and a touch of simple syrup brings alive an Old Fashioned.
While you may not be as familiar pairing whisk(e)y with food, you’ve probably enjoyed whisk(e)y in a cocktail. All it represents is the dynamic nature of the drink to respond to combinations and additives. Plus, as a bonus, these cocktails can be paired with food and cigars to widen the range of the already broad whisk(e)y experience. There’s a lot more you can explore with whisk(e)y cocktails.
If you love whisk(e)y, you’ll love whisk(e)y pairings. They’re a great opportunity to make an already dynamic experience all the more diverse. Like wine, whisk(e)y goes great with certain foods, and experimenting will help you find them. Some, like chocolate and haggis, have become famous for just how well they complement a good dram.
Whisk(e)y also allows for exploration with cigars and cocktails. All of these augmentations will broaden and change the experience, allowing the drinker to explore whisk(e)y more in depth.
Take the next step in your whisky journey — try some pairings!