Whisky & Food – Part I


Before you venture into the world of Whisky and Food, i suggest you take a trip down to a previous post talking about the flavour camps and flavour map of whisky CLICK HERE !!

Alright now, let me begin by giving you a harsh reality that whisky enthusiasts have to go through. There is a lingering belief that whisky and food has no relationship at all. That Wine is the quintessential drink while pairing food with beverage. Now that isn’t untrue, the world for the better half of over 500 years has focused on pairing the perfect wine with food.

Also considering the fact that the French who even today are considered lords of the culinary world, are the motherland for wine, their pairing being a natural occurrence. Moreover the Scots have never considered the drink to be something to pair with cuisine, something that one might find surprising, but is true. This is ironic considering that whisky in porridge or oats in the morning was a food form very popular amongst all of Scotland, aside from it being had along side Haggis.

But over the last decade, trends are changing. Whisky, a spirit, that at most was used while cooking some desserts and Flambe, is now being researched extensively. This research ranges from food pairing to use in food. This first instalment in a series dedicated to understanding how we can pair whisky with food will talk about some basics to keep in mind while having a whisky dinner (with several courses and the appropriate whisky);

Q.) What gives whisky its flavour ?

Fermented beverages like wine and beer get their flavour from the natural breakdown of sugars of the fruit or grain and its subsequent fermentation. This will on most occasions give flavours which belong to the fruit or cereal family, case in point beer from barley will taste malty and cereal like, wine from grapes  will taste like fruits or spices.

Now Whisky is made after fermented beverages are distilled, so it sounds very weird when we think how vapour from a liquid could posses any flavour at all. And its true, aside from some maltiness and smokiness, freshly distilled whisky doesn’t taste like much, maybe slightly more complex Vodka. But after spending months in Oak casks, the magic happens. The Chemicals (esters, aldehydes and phenols) interact between the wood and the distillate, giving flavour compounds that on inspection make one confused how they came up in the first place.

Vanilla for instance comes from a compound known as Vanillin, which comes from the oak casks mingling with the esters of the distillate. So while some flavours like smoke and malt are an obvious outcome, others like citrus fruit, seaweed, banana, toffee, coffee, chocolate are found as well. 

Q.) What kind of food should be had with whisky ?

Anything. Anything and everything that wont kill you. But yes different whisky’s will suit different foods. Now whisky as a beverage has not been delved into very deeply in terms of pairing it with say cheese or meats. So the best way most experts recommend one learn about pairing is by trying and testing. I will give some combinations i have tried and learnt about in the coming sections.

Q.) Single Malt vs Blended Whisky with food ?

Well, Blended whisky has a sweetness that would do good for people who are beginning to pair whisky and food. Moreover since the number of flavours are larger in blends, owing to the different whiskys used to make them, it would tend to suit a larger number of ingredients used in cooking.

Single Malts on the other hand have a more unified road, one distillery tends to produce one style of whisky resulting in Single Malts having a more defined character requiring a more specific role of ingredients.

Q.) Water, Soda or Neat with food  ?

I am not a fan of filling whisky glasses with water or soda, and most professionals would agree. At most i believe that a few drops of water help in releasing the flavour compounds. That being said while pairing whisky with food, adding water and soda based on the course as well as type of food is a good idea. Especially when a number of courses are being had, water might prevent one getting too tipsy and enjoy more whisky. 

Q.) What is the order of serving whiskys with food ?

Lighter whisky’s are great to be had early (fruity and spicy or floral and fragrant), they don’t overwhelm the palate and also go well with fish or cold meat or fowl, which are often served at the start of a meal.

Heavier whiskys such as smoky or oily whiskys are better to be had later with heavy meat, often roasted, giving a compliment to the chary whisky flavour. Also the classic combination of Cigars and whisky are best to be savoured at the end of a meal (that being the classical French Menus format).

Q.) Should we use different glasses while serving whisky with food ?

Absolutely, use champagne flutes/tulips for light whiskys at the beginning, Wine glasses and of course the classic old fashioned glass to be used with heavier smokier whisky’s. Make it fun and festive, something Diageo’s whisky experts can be quoted on saying on many an occasion.

Q.) How much whisky should be poured per course of food ?

A small peg (30ml) is more than enough. If there are more than 3 courses 20ml would be a safer bet. 


So lets begin an adventure that will include the following editions;

  • PART 1: Gearing up For Whisky and food
  • PART 2: Basic Combinations 
  • PART 3: Whisky & Cheese
  • PART 4: Appetizers, Fingerfood and Cheese
  • PART 5: Main course
  • PART 6: Dessert and Chocolate
  • PART 7: Hosting your own whisky dinner

So until next time, keep testing and keep experimenting, the best way to appreciate this drink.

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