Whiskey and Food Pairings
Many different methods are used to distill whiskey, and selecting a whiskey to complement a meal is made easier by the differences. If the whiskey is made in the US, and from corn mash, it is not aged in a casket and derives a different taste than a peaty Scotch whiskey, which is made from malted barley, kiln dried over a peat fire, and aged in an oak casket.
As a primer, whiskey is recognized as coming in two types - malt and grain. Of these two types, several finished variations of whiskey exist. Blended malt, single malt, single cask, and cask strength are the most common. So what does this have to do with food? Like the grapes used to make wine, each whiskey possesses distinctive tastes that complement food. One caution is to be very careful in pairing hot and spicy foods with whiskey. Spicy is okay, but anything so hot it burns ruins the palate and finish of most drinks, including whiskey.
As with all food pairings, the true gourmand generally starts with a cheese plate of some type. When pairing whiskey with cheese, it's important to understand the kind of whiskey you are drinking. If you choose a smoky, spicy tasting whiskey, it pairs best with a strong cheese and a salty something. A Rocquefort and a sesame cracker work very well. With an entree, the same whiskey works very well with a smoked salmon, and a salty beurre blanc sauce.
When choosing a whiskey with a more sweet taste, try pairing it with a softer cheese, like Brie or Camembert. These should be served with a nice water cracker, or something bland. With an entree, pair a well-aged steak and sweet potato with a sweeter whiskey for a lovely meal.
Dessert is also fun to pair. Whiskey is a fantastic complement to chocolate and to creamy desserts like mousses and crème brulees. Again, the key knowledge to begin with is what the whiskey tastes like.
Dark chocolate pairs well with many whiskeys. When drinking a peaty scotch, chocolate containing high levels of cocoa work best. A rich flourless chocolate torte is a great complementary dessert for a peaty scotch. Adding a malty scotch to a creamy milk chocolate dessert provides a fantastic culinary experience. Chocolate is not the only dessert that works well with whiskey, though.
Pairing malty scotches to a fruity dessert like fried plantains or tangy key lime pie is divine inspiration. A softer, mellow dessert, like a crème brulee or flan works well, too. For those that prefer peaty scotch, finding a dessert is a little more difficult. Minty desserts tend to work well, in part due to the chocolate content.
The key ingredient to drinking whiskey with meals is to understand what the whiskey tastes like. Many great pairings are found by trial and error, but understanding the undertones of both the whiskey and the food make it much easier.