7 Tips for Pairing Food and Whisky

Tasting pouring

People are starting to enjoy whisky in different ways and food pairings are on the rise


As the appreciation of single malt Scotch whisky continues to grow around the globe, people are starting to enjoy it in more exciting and diverse ways. One particular format that’s popular across the Asia Pacific especially in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines is the pairing whisky with food. In western cultures, wine has long been the preferred drink with a meal. In Asia, however, ardent spirits have long been consumed with an evening dish. Although the types of alcohol consumed in Asia are changing, the practice of consuming them with a meal has not.

Of course, there’s no one correct way to consume single malt Scotch whisky.  It all depends on personal preference but consuming it with food opens up a world of aroma and flavour opportunities.

It’s important to note that pairing whisky with food is not quite as easy as pairing wine with food. It’s true that making a great match between a wine and food takes a lot of knowledge and experience. The good thing is, there are some simple rules that everyone can follow. For example: red wine goes well with red meat whilst white wine works best with fish or chicken.

Not so for single malt whisky! Firstly, our drams don’t really fit into two neat categories that we can pair with our protein. Secondly, the much higher alcohol percentage makes it a little more difficult. Difficult, but potentially very rewarding.

Here are my top 7 tips for pairing food and single malt whiskies:


1. Food Synergy

The goal is not just to find things that go well together. It is to create a match where the food brings out something new in the whisky. Or ,the whisky brings out something new in the food. In other words, we want to create gastronomic synergy, where 1+1 = 3.

2. No to very spicy, bitter or garlicky 

Anything very spicy, bitter or laden with garlic should be avoided as it will kill some of the flavours in the whisky. These flavours can stick to the tongue and reduce your ability to appreciate the subtleties in your dram.

3. Yes to Fat

Food cooked with fat generally pairs quite well with any spirit, including whisky. Be it butter or a fatty piece of meat, the fat will coat your mouth. Then, when you take a sip of whisky, the flavours that have dissolved in that fat will be rapidly released into your mouth.

4. Complement taste profiles 

Don’t always try to match flavours. Matching a smoky whisky with a smoked salmon might sound intuitive. But the whisky smoke will kill the delicate salmon smokiness. Try a pairing where a component of the dish complements a note in the whisky. For example, a whisky with a note of apple will go very well with pork or strawberries, not with apples.

5. Do try to match weights

As with wine, a lighter and more delicate bourbon cask whisky will tend to work well with a lighter dish or meats.  Fresh fish, sashimi are other seafood are good examples. A heavier sherry cask whisky will work with a more heavily dish like braised lamb shanks or seared beef. This matching ensures that one does not drown out the other.

6. Oil amplifies flavours

A lot of herbs and spices will release their flavours into oil. Once in the mouth, a sip of whisky will release and lead to an explosion of flavour. Remember that alcohol will amplify chilli, so be judicious.

7. Aromas and mouthfeels

Think about pairing based on aromas and mouthfeels. Consider also matching the core flavours of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Our experience of food and drink is far more than just the flavours that we experience on our tongue.

If you have any tips or advice for pairing that you feel I have missed or you have a question or two you’d like answering, I’d love to hear from you. You can read more more about me here or click on my social media icons below.

Written for and first published in Glenfiddich Expert Blog.


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