The idea of drinking Whisky with food is sheer joy to the heart and yes, to the stomach. While Whisky is also used as an ingredient used in the preparation of various dishes and foods, the concept of pairing it with food, whether Indian or global cuisine, can be fun and revealing. The right match for a Whisky can reveal flavours bound tightly within the Whisky that were not evident before the pairing.
Whisky pairing is a science and an art combined. What creates a brilliant plate of food is a perfect balance of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, which means depth. When choosing a whiskey to pair with food, it is easiest to think of the whiskey in terms of its flavor characteristics. Is it grassy, spicy or sweet? Is it smoky, full of mineral notes or citrus tones?
Take bourbon, for instance. Owing to freshly charred oak barrels, most bourbon enjoys a deep layer of vanilla, and a signature sweetness. One would be correct in assuming that bourbon would pair well with most desserts. Apple pie with aged white cheddar and a good bourbon is a fine thing. Under the vanilla are usually at least a few dried fruits – raisins, apples, dried currants. What will go well are dishes that are traditionally served with fruit accompaniments. Bourbon can now transition from a dessert drink, to a lunchtime dram with a ham sandwich. In fact, it pairs beautifully with pork in all its forms, as well as chicken, duck and other poultry. The smoky heaviness of barbecued dishes, too, can be elevated by bourbon’s inherent sweetness. But this spirit is not limited to carnivorous plates. Brassicas, from sprouts to red cabbage to broccoli, all pair nicely with the dried fruit notes of bourbon, as do the roasted roots of onions, carrots and potatoes.
On the other side of the whiskey spectrum is Islay Scotch. The signature note of an Islay Whisky is peat smoke. From eggs to oysters, from venison to black beans to milk chocolate, there isn’t much that doesn’t taste great with a hint of smoke.
Another fine example of pairing for flavor can be found with rye whiskeys. Ryes are usually full of spice. Black pepper, cinnamon and ginger notes are often found. One can begin to catalogue the foods that are sometimes served with spicy sauces or additions. Potatoes, cheese, salmon and lamb come to mind.
Indian vegetarian dishes are a great surprise when it comes to pairing them with Whisky. The spicy south Indian palate goes best with smoky, peaty whiskies holding the spices. Scotch whiskies complement some of the best vegetarian south Indian foods such as mini idli, cholam keerai masial, beans paruppu usili, kakarikai vepadu and small aloo bondai with curry leaves.
A light-bodied Lowland single malt may go well with a fish dish. Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and the Bruichladdich distillery, may be complementary, with tea-smoked chicken, teriyaki salmon, plain dark chocolate, baba ghanoush and Middle Eastern style lamb meatballs.
Single malts such as The Laphroaig when paired with an apple crumble can be heavenly.
Not just Japanese whiskies like Yamazaki, but also Talsiker and Ardbeg go well with tuna and salmon in sushi and sashimi dishes.
Whiskies from distilleries that brew light fragrant Whisky with a touch of sweetness such as the Knochando distillery, the Jura distillery, the Glenfiddich distillery and the Glenkinchie distillery, and others go well with sushi, smoked salmon, parsnip soup, bread and butter pudding, cranachan, Cullen skink (smoked haddock soup), goat’s cheese and cream cheese. Try a steak with a rich, sherried Whisky like Auchentoshan Three Wood.
Sweeter whiskies from Speyside, such as Mortlach, Benromach , The Macallan and Lagavulin naturally go better with desserts and chocolates.
Choose your whiskies well and then enjoy some dishes, you may wish to break from the traditional Appetizer, Soup, Main Course, Noodles/Rice kind of a mould. Great company with an extraordinary Whisky and food pairing is a path less travelled. Try it, you won’t complain!