Forget ice or soda; have you tried pairing Scotch with food? It can work surprisingly well, and so-called “whisky dinners” are becoming increasingly popular in Europe and Asia. Just this year alone, I’ve led dozens of them in twenty countries.
I particularly enjoy matching single malts with appetizers, small plates like tapas or meze, and desserts. This can showcase unexpected characteristics in a spirit and invariably leads to a lively discussion. (As for entrees, they’re often too complex, and, frankly, I think wine is better suited as a companion to many dishes.)
The general idea is that the cuisine and the whisky should either complement or contrast with each other. Since every Scotch bottling has its own unique flavor profile, I suggest keeping the food relatively simple and based on quality ingredients, which will allow the liquor to really shine through.
Here are some of my favorite pairings. Bon appetit!
Raw oysters “anointed” with a splash of Talisker 10-Year-Old:
The light smokiness and maritime character of the whisky complements the mollusk, and it finishes with a peppery kick.
Shrimp with a glass of Old Pulteney 12-Year-Old:
The sweet saltiness of “The Manzanilla of the North” enhances the sweetness of the shellfish.
Some think the smokiness of the whisky is too dominant, but I say it works well with Scotland’s other famous delicacy.
Custard tart and a shot of frozen Dalwhinnie 15-Year-Old:
The light vanilla and honey notes in the whisky, together with its smooth texture, complement the dessert.
Rich fruitcake with Glenfarclas 15-Year-Old (or any other sherry-wood-matured malt):
The dried fruits and mouth-drying tannins are balanced by the unctuous sweetness of the cake.
Roquefort cheese with Lagavulin 16-Year-Old:
Massive flavors, which cancel each other out—truly a marriage made in Heaven.
Dark chocolate, strong black coffee and a good cigar with The Dalmore Gran Reserva:
Nibble, sip coffee, sip whisky, puff cigar. Repeat. Bliss!
Charles MacLean, Master of the Quaich and James Beard Award winner, is the author of ten books on Scotch, including the Whiskypedia.