Contrary to what you may see in pop culture, whiskey pairs well with more than just ice and a cigar. Or the 1960s. Whiskey looks great alongside your rare steak, your even rarer sushi, and with a bag of potato chips. Who knew? Well, you do now. So let's get our hands dirty as we browse what else makes for a brilliant whiskey pairing.
It's risky business jumping right into the unexpected with whiskey pairings. But, here's the thing. It's so perfect. Why? Sushi, whether you're enjoying sashimi or a hand roll, skews either a little sweet or quite salty because of soy sauce. Put down the pickled ginger; the whiskey, preferably Japanese whiskey, is the ideal palate cleanser, with that crisp bite the perfect antithesis to the bite currently waiting for you between your chopsticks.
You're probably more on board with the idea of pairing whiskey with mussels, and that's an easy conclusion to draw. The same salty, umami flavors you find in sushi you find in mussels - although not so pronounced. But what is pronounced are the flavors you find in a buttery white wine sauce or even a modern hoppy-IPA broth that the mussels cook in. Whiskey is a refreshing break between scoops to keep the dish light and balanced.
Rounding out your whiskey and seafood adventure, smoked salmon is an excellent source of oceanic protein that you may not have considered pairing with your whiskey. The rich rye notes and the bite of the whiskey go hand in hand with the smokey, fatty flavors of the salmon. Go the extra mile and smear your salmon on a piece of toasted rye bread. It's a good chance to do brunch for dinner.
Life's short, eat dessert first, and especially enjoy dessert with whiskey. The smooth, creamy flavors, and obvious sweetness of the caramel and, hopefully, added caramel sauce, mingle beautifully with the subtle caramel notes you find in whiskey. And each bite lets you appreciate the charred flavors whiskey offers.
Apple pie is as American as, well, apple pie. Let's ignore that England lays claim to its invention. However, whiskey with an e (as opposed to whisky) - that's American. So, together, this unexpected duo deserves a rightful place at the next Fourth of July. Much like caramel, you'll find that the brown sugar and cinnamon notes marry with whiskey into a full-blown romance. And as for the crisp, soft apples? One bite, and you'll understand the magic of the peppery whiskey and how the sweet, soft, juicy, warm apples bring a new view to that whiskey you know so well.
Speaking of apples, just a regular apple makes for a dreamy whiskey pairing. The crisp, cold flavors of the apple, be it as a bite from a whole apple or with carefully sliced pieces, are a sweet juxtaposition to the earthy, peppery notes you're going to find in whiskey.
Figs and Pears
Similar to apples, you'll find that figs and pears make for an excellent whiskey pear-ing. The honey and spiced notes you find in whiskey are the perfect complement to the naturally crisp and sweet flavors in pears and the soft flesh of the inside of the fig. Try alternating a bite of pear or fig with a sip of whiskey to taste the fireworks for yourself.
No, we're not talking about the fruit you forgot on your counter for too long. We're talking homemade dehydrated fruit, although the sugary ones you find at the store will get the job done, too, just in a different way. Just like the spiced and caramel whiskey notes go well with pears and apples, the dried fruit makes an excellent partner with whiskey with their own fruity, sugary notes.
Cheese, and obviously, by extension, a charcuterie board with carefully selected meats, can take your afternoon whiskey from average afternoon whiskey to a celebration - even if you're celebrating that it's finally raining. A mild cheese will be your best bet, so skip the blue cheese or gorgonzola. But a smooth brie or goat cheese will make those whiskey notes sing. Extra credit for adding a little pancetta with your cheese.
You're not surprised to see this suggestion listed here today. The charred, seared steak and the smoky flavors from the grill, or cast iron pan, are the ultimate match with the bite and smoke of the whiskey. Like Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, this is a match made in heaven that will never raise eyebrows, only inspire smiles and, "More of this, please!"
A word to the wise, don't go overboard on the seasoning. Salt and pepper and a good crust are the finishing touch for a steak and whiskey pairing. You can go with a New York strip, a ribeye, or a filet. Even steak tips. Just let the steak be the star.
Remember the sultry, smoky notes of the steak? They're right at home with the ribs. The richness of the BBQ sauce with the brown sugar, which you're going to give a gentle burn to give the ribs a crispy bite, makes for the dreamiest pairing. Keep one hand clean so you can sip your whiskey without leaving fingerprints.
Sweet Potatoes and Brown Sugar
While you're at it, don't forget the sides with your dinner, and a sweet potato with a pinch of brown sugar is the best side for a whiskey pairing. Whether you bake the sweet potato whole, cube it, or whip it, don't forget the sugar. So many whiskeys have subtle undertones of yam and brown sugar. Amplify those flavors and really sink into them with this pairing.
The fat you're avoiding in your grilled steak is what makes for a melty cheeseburger slider, or even a cheeseburger if you wanted to go big. Why sliders? Okay, so this might be cheating, but make yourself a flight of sliders to pair with a flight of whiskey. See how certain the earthy, smokey, caramel notes vary from whiskey to whiskey, from the oakiness to the bite. Not all whiskeys are created the same, and facing them off in a flight is a great way to see the flavors in action.
The star here is really the bacon, but wrap that bacon around some scallops, dates, asparagus, cheese, or whatever you please, and suddenly heaven doesn't seem so far away. It's right at your fingertips, bound for your mouth. Plain bacon, with all of its salty, smokey goodness, is a great pairing with a sweeter whiskey, or match your whiskey with a big bite with something a little more unusual: candied bacon with brown sugar. Insert Emma Stone yum gif here.
Dark Chocolate & Chocolate Mousse
It's understandable if you don't think of whiskey as an after-dinner drink, especially not one you'd have with a chocolatey dessert. But, here's the thing: the orange undertones you find in dark chocolate carry over to each sip of whiskey, where you'll find similar citrus notes. And those bitter flavors you don't find in milk chocolate keep the pair from becoming cloying. Chocolate mousse doesn't coat your mouth the way milk chocolate does, with those smooth, sugary flavors the ideal complement to the whiskey.
I know you're already halfway to the cupboard to grab a bag of chips to give this pairing a go, so I'll keep this short and sweet. Both serve as a palate cleanser for the other. The saltiness, nuttiness of the potato chip balances the caramel, oaky, bite of the whiskey. Don't limit yourself. You know those smoky BBQ chips or even all-dressed will ignite this flavor pairing.
Tips for Making a Whiskey Pairing
Whether you want to nosh on something spicy, eat some seafood, go all in on some red meat, or sit down for a fatty duck dinner, whiskey is there for you and ready for pairing. Pair your lighter, mellow whiskies with lighter foods or spicier dishes. With fuller-bodied whiskeys, go bold with fatty meals, like some duck or bitter dark chocolate. Think of your whiskeys as having a range, not unlike wines. And, above all, if you prefer a hearty whiskey with a seafood dish, then keep doing that. Your preference is what matters most.
Mastering Whiskey Pairings
Start here, go anywhere with a whiskey pairing match made in heaven. With such a range of whiskeys, there's a myriad of foods, snacks, and desserts you can play matchmaker with. Start by making any whiskey-food match, and soon you'll be the ultimate whiskey pairing guru.