Food and whiskey pairing is amazing.  Although whiskey is often relegated to the role of “post-meal nightcap”, it can pair with and compliment food as well as good wine.

Food and wine are a natural and obvious match.  I pretty much made my reputation as a chef pairing them together in ways that bring balance and harmony to the dining experience. In fact, I’m guessing that most of us have rarely had a wine experience that hasn’t included some food element. But what about whiskey?

Although whiskey is usually relegated to the role of “post-meal nightcap”, it has many of the same core elements as wine (fermentation, barrel aging, complex flavor, and aromatics) and can pair with and compliment food just as well.

Food and whiskey pairing is a new and exciting area that many chefs, connoisseurs, and home entertainers are discovering.  It’s a lot of fun, it’s very rewarding, and I’ll be exploring it extensively on Wine Whiskey Dine.  But in order to fully enjoy and get the most out of whiskey/food pairing, it’s important to understand and master a few basic rules:

Rule 1 Master Whiskey Yoga

This is pretty vital. One of the biggest impediments to food/whiskey pairing is the alcohol burn that can overwhelm the palate and ruin the experience; especially if you are new to whiskey or don’t care for higher proof whiskeys. The alcohol burn is a primary reason that people don’t think food and whiskey go together. But Whiskey Yoga eliminates most of the burn, allowing you to pick up all the subtle nuance of the whiskey that can balance and harmonize with food.

Rule 2 Know the Proper Technique

In order to get the most out of your food/whiskey pairing, you need to make sure you’re sipping, breathing, and tasting in the correct sequence using the right process. You should begin by doing steps 3 and 4 of whiskey Yoga. After the exhale, while you’re still tasting the whiskey, take a bite of food. The residual alcohol will actually unlock and enhance some of the flavors in the food, allowing you to enjoy everything the food and spirit have to offer in one mouthful. It’s a very different, and in some ways superior experience to tasting food with wine (I know, blasphemy).

Rule 3 Match Food with the Elements and Characteristics of the Whiskey, NOT the Category of Whiskey

This rule mirrors my wine and food pairing philosophy – it’s not about varietal (in the case of wine), or the category, it’s about discerning which characteristics in the bottle will harmonize best with food. For example, roast chicken would seem to be a good pairing with roasted peatiness and subtle sweetness of Scotch. But how is the chicken prepared, and what area is the Scotch from? An oven roasted half chicken with Myer lemon and garlic stuffed under the skin, and served with a cauliflower-cashew purée would pair nicely with a Speyside Scotch. The acidity of the lemon would bring out the contrasting sweetness of that Scotch, while the purée would help highlight the roasted nutty qualities. On the other hand, a big smoky Islay Scotch would completely overwhelm the dish. But if the chicken was roasted over sharp, tangy mesquite charcoal, it would perfectly match and harmonize with the Islay’s smoky, medicinal qualities.

Rule 4 Fat is Your Friend

As I said earlier, one of the primary impediments to enjoying whiskey with food is the overwhelming alcohol burn. The good news is that fats such as oil, cream, and butter can help moderate or mute that burn. The chemical composition of fatty acids is incompatible with alcohol molecules. So when you eat rich fatty foods, they cost your mouth, creating a barrier the alcohol cont penetrate. Additionally, many of the o5her elements in whiskey are fat soluble, meaning that fats can actually unlock more flavors. I highly recommend paring rich foods with whiskey, or at the very least, making sure that there is a fatty component in the dish, such as butter or cheese.

Rule 5 Spicy Foods are NOT Your Friend

Just as fats can mute and moderate the effects of the high alcohol in whiskey, spicy foods do just the opposite. Capsicum, the element in peppers that make them hot, are alcohol soluble. Meaning that spicy foods amplify the alcohol and intensify the burn to the point that it can be really unpleasant.  For these reasons, I recommend you avoid pairing overly spicy foods with whiskey

These general rules should serve as a guide to optimal whiskey and food pairing.  My weekly food/wine/ whiskey pairings will give you much more specific details – along with recipes and tasting notes if you become a Wine Whiskey Dine Alchemist!