Sweet, spicy, peaty, full-bodied, multi-layered...there’s a tipple that will match almost every dish, says Nuria Stylianou
“Whisky is all about education, understanding and driving flavour exploration,” says Greg Dillon, spirits connoisseur and editor of the Great Drams blog. “The depth of flavour, the variety and the intrigue of whisky is what is driving the trend towards whisky being a great accompaniment to meals.”
Clearly, wine isn’t the only drink capable of being the perfect match for food. Whisky is gaining in popularity as the ideal partner for a range of dishes, from light starters to desserts. The many flavour descriptions vary from light to full-bodied; from a touch of sweetness and fruit, to more complex and bold with strong peat, earthy and smoky notes.
Whisky is a great match for seafood, cheese, smoked and roasted meats, and desserts. The lighter styles fare better with smoked salmon and sushi, while medium-bodied whiskies work with smoked fish such as mackerel.
Full-bodied, aged in cask, and strong, smoky, peat styles are fabulous with dark chocolate, fruitcake and Christmas pudding, steak, roast venison, haggis and mature and blue cheeses. Pour a few generous drops into the dish you’re cooking and the whisky will even help to deepen and develop the flavours.
And Dillon says fans of the dram are getting younger. “People who drink whisky are no longer mainly 40-plus males. An influx of 28 to 35-year-olds, the millennials, are breaking all the traditional category codes and norms in how it is consumed, what it is paired with and when whisky is enjoyed, too.”
So, whether you’re in need of comfort and consolation as winter deepens, or if you’re celebrating, opt for whisky instead of your fail-safe, warming Malbec and see where the adventure takes you. Here, Dillon gives his choice of five tipples, each with a different style and varying maturation level.
The Balvenie 17-Year-Old Doublewood
Paired with: smoked salmon
£70, Sainsbury’s. Buy it here
“The Balvenie’s brand ambassador, James Buntin, literally fed me smoked salmon at an event recently, followed by The Balvenie 17-Year-Old Doublewood, and it was superb. The whisky itself is multi-layered, with notes of juicy orchard fruits, bitter dark chocolate and dark fruits, likely from the sherry cask finish. It is full-bodied but not overpowering, which is what you are looking for when pairing whisky with fish. The varying flavour notes from the whisky react really well in this particular release from The Balvenie. This pairing is about as luxurious as it gets, and not a bad option for brunch either. "
Paired with: rare rib-eye steak with sweet potato fries
£39.99, Drink Supermarket. Buy it here
“Having been matured first in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, this Irish whiskey then spends a full year finishing in first-fill sherry casks (ie. when a cask has held sherry for the very first time) from Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain. This is a new release from Redbreast. Lustau is rich, creamy and spicy on the nose that follows through to a thick mouth-coating palate exuding dark fruits and sherry notes right through to the finish. By marrying a thick whiskey such as the Redbreast Lustau with a rib-eye steak, you will get a sort of awakening of the senses that will start to pull apart the multi-layered flavour notes from each to allow you the enjoyment of a classic steak in a whole new way.”
Stagg Jr Bourbon
Paired with: bourbon-glazed pulled pork
£76.95, The Whisky Exchange. Buy it here
“Now this is a little punchy at 66.05% ABV, but do not be worried by the strength. This time you can incorporate the bourbon itself into this American Classic both as a drink and a cooking ingredient. The bourbon is sweet and spicy with wisps of smoke; when used as an ingredient in a homemade BBQ sauce glaze, the alcohol is going to burn off and the flavour remain to really pump up the sauce. This is a favourite in our house, especially when served with mac’n’cheese and fries – just make sure you sip the bourbon when you are eating the meal to amp up the flavours of the sauce you made.”
Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley 2009
Paired with: haggis
£150, The Whisky Shop. Buy it here
"Octomore 6.3 is a beast. At a mega 258ppm (parts per million), this is one of, if not the peatiest whisky in the world with a rich, deep body, giving off lots of spice and smoke; a whisky drinker's dram. I would recommend trying it before you incorporate it into your meal, however, as the first time you sip this one it can taste like chewing on a peat brick, but it does mellow the more you taste the whisky.
“Haggis, neeps and tatties is a quintessential Scottish dish, but what many people are yet to discover is that when you receive your plate, you should immediately fashion a well along the middle of the haggis and pour a hearty dram of a punchy whisky in there, in this case, Octomore. This will give the haggis a bit of oomph, will add a spicy note and the nose of the whisky coupled with the food completes the dish nicely.”
Glenfiddich 21-Year-Old Reserva Rum Cask Finish
Paired with: sticky toffee pudding
£132, The Whisky Exchange. Buy it here
“I had to put a dessert into this list, and this is another favourite at home. The whisky itself is a little sweet, with notes of juicy exotic fruits such as pineapple and mango, hints of spice and a demerara sugar or molasses note, with a light to medium body and a medium-length finish. The richness of the sticky toffee pudding, ideally served with a liquid toffee sauce together with the whisky, will start to merge into a fusion of delicious flavours and syrupy textures in the mouth that you really won’t want to end.’
Nuria Stylianou is our WSET-qualified wine and spirits columnist. Email her on email@example.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @nu_on_the_vine. For more infotmation, visit greatdrams.com