The following originally appeared on Food Digital on December 24, 2012:
The festive season provides an excellent opportunity to pair whisky with food. Although there are some in the whisky industry who think whisky and food pairings are a nonsense there are many others who believe that the enjoyment of both whisky and food is heightened with a successful pairing.
At the beginning of a meal it’s not impossible to pair salad and soup with whisky. However, it can be more fun to include whisky in vinaigrette (Rosebank is a light, citrusy Lowland whisky that compliments a simple green salad) or in split pea soup that calls for a tablespoon of sherry (Yamazaki sherry cask from Japan and Kavalan Solist sherry cask from Taiwan are perfect here).
The main course provides plenty of opportunity for experimentation. Smoked salmon pairs excellently with peaty, briny, high alcohol releases like Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte or Bowmore Tempest. Whisky with dried fruits and a touch of mint in the profile (look to the very popular Speyburn 10 Year Old here) compliments roast lamb. If you’re serving roast ham choose a whisky that will really draw out the flavors of the crackling (whiskies with bacon-like elements include the cask strength version of Laphroaig 10 Year Old, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, and Arran Machrie Moor). Finally, if turkey is on the docket you should pour the spicy, sherried GlenDronach 15 Year Old Revival.
Vegetarian main courses also pair well with whisky. Dishes containing nuts (the ubiquitous nut log comes to mind) pair well with The Balvenie (12 Year Old Signature, especially). Cheesy dishes are best with whisky that can stand up to the fat with high alcohol, oily profiles (Red Breast 12 Year Old, cask strength, from Ireland would be splendid but for an extra special treat try pouring Octomore Comus).
Just like the main course, dessert can come in many forms and many flavors! A platter of cheeses can have a blue cheese like Stilton or Danish Blue paired with something port-like (Kavalan Concertmaster port cask, The Balvenie 21 Year Old PortWood, or Sullivans Cove French Oak, cask strength, single cask release would be excellent choices). A berry cobbler partners with a whisky that’s buttery and fruity (Arran 14 Year Old, for example). One of my favorites from festive seasons past saw a white chocolate cheesecake paired with Ardbeg 10 Year Old (the spirit really cut through the dense and fatty dessert while elevating itself and the cheesecake to new heights of decadence!).
If you’re closing out your meal with coffee and dark chocolate you’ll be pleased to know that you can pair those with either peated or sherried whiskies. Lagavulin 16 Year Old has a very smoky profile and really compliments bitter chocolate while Dalmore Cigar Malt remains a favorite end of dinner pairing for me, with or without a cigar. Glenfarclas 105, a heavily sherried, cask strength offering from the valley of the green grass works beautifully, too. Pour Glenglassaugh 26 Year Old with your closest friends.
Here’s to imbibing responsibly and creatively this festive season! Slainte!