4 Tips for Pairing Food and Whisky

Whisky is a classic beverage that pairs well with everything from lamb shanks to chocolate desserts. 

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October 6, 2016 3 min read
Learn what pairs best with your old fashioned.

Food alone is often not enough to truly fill the belly. Your beverage of choice can often make or break a meal you, the chef, are serving up to guests. In the past, we’ve touched on the proper techniques for pairing both wine and beer, addressing elements like how to marry flavors together or what to look for in individual blends and brews.

“Whisky sales have increased 4% worldwide in recent years.”

Now, we’re moving on to another popular drink: whisky. It’s so beloved, in fact, that whisky sales have increased by over four percent worldwide in recent years, as Fortune reported. Here are four handy tips for perfectly pairing whisky with your expertly prepared meals:

1. Keep your pairing simple
Marcus Samuelsson is a world-class chef with several of his own restaurants in Harlem. Speaking with Forbes, he explained that often the perfect whisky pairings are the most obvious. For instance, when he’s drinking a sweeter blend (like a Glenmorangie), Samuelsson combines it with ribs with an equally sweet sauce, like a mixture of cloves, ginger and peach. Or, for foods with a bit more spice or similar kick, Samuelsson almost always opts for a single malt scotch whisky. The point is to never overthink these pairings, and sometimes the best blending of food and drink is because of the connection between both elements of a meal.

2. Think like wine
The folks at Glenfiddich have been making whisky for over 130 years, so it’s safe to say they know their way around a distillery. When considering how to perfectly pair whisky, brand ambassador Matthew Fergusson-Stewart explained that it’s important to tackle the meal much as you would with wine. By that, Fergusson-Stewart meant that light meals, like sashimi and other seafood, are always best with lighter whisky, since the two balance each other out. Same goes for heavier whisky and meals with lamb or beef. It’s that balancing act that often resorts in the very best meals possible, and the entire experience is based on the many individual flavors.

“High quality whisky can help you avoid a hangover.”

3. Go for the good stuff
Chef Christina Lecki works at New York City’s The Breslin restaurant. Speaking with Food and Wine magazine, she outlined four of her favorite whiskys to pair with various meals. Across all four, one major theme emerges: always buy the very best whisky you can. And rightfully so: Not only does it simply taste rather inferio, but cheap whisky can also make you experience a hangover more readily, according to Gizmodo. That’s because of the presence of congeners, impurities born out of the fermentation process that act as toxins to the body. So, no matter what kind or brand of whisky, don’t be afraid to make sure you have a few expensive varieties available.

4. Don’t forget dessert!
Most people would believe that a fine glass of whisky is meant only for lamb shanks or a nice seafood dish. However, as chef/blogger Fiona Beckett pointed out, whisky also goes great with dessert. Beckett explained that it can be tricky to pair whisky with traditional dessert fare like chocolate, as both flavors are complex and not easily balanced. To address those issues, Beckett will only go for cask whiskies, in which the wood container expands and enhances the whisky’s natural flavors. Barring that, you can always dilute some of the whisky, and while this may be a no-no for some purists, it’s a great way to achieve balance.

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