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Pairing Food & Whisky–A Match Made In Heaven

A growing trend in the industry is pairing food with drinks. As the world of Scotch Whisky continues to grow, we caught up with Diageo Global Whisky Master Ewan Gunn to find out more about how to create a match made in heaven when it comes to Whisky and food.

Food and whisky pairing is a great opportunity

Taste is the key: taste first, taste second and taste last. Too often customers drink Wine as a matter of accepted routine during meals. By offering Whisky as an alternative, you can create a unique experience that is entirely taste driven. Putting the right food with the right balancing Whisky can be tricky, yet when it is done well, the results can be sensational. Whisky can provide a variance of flavors and aromas that can successfully compete with Wine. By pairing food and whisky you are creating a new, exciting experience for your customers and often a greater spend per head.

Even if you do not work in a restaurant there is still an opportunity to upsell customers to Whisky serves with interesting and unique garnishes, or small snacks that pair with a Whisky serve. Talk to your customers about how the flavors work together and the benefits that the garnish or accompaniment brings to the drink.

6 Tips to pair food and whisky

1. When deciding what Whisky goes with what dish, think about the flavors the Whisky can bring out in the food and vice versa, and never be afraid to experiment; some of the most interesting combinations are unexpected and surprising.

2. The flavors in the Whisky and the food need to complement each other but don’t always have to be an exact match; sometimes it can be interesting if they are at opposite ends of the flavor spectrum. For example, spicy foods often go better with a sweeter Whisky.

3. Light Whiskies such as Haig Club tend to pair best with light dishes such as seafood, but surprising combinations such as Talisker and oysters can also be magnificent.

4. Medium-bodied, and richer Whiskies tend to go better with gamey meats.

5. Full-bodied Whiskies go best with strong full-flavoured dishes. For example, the smoky, full flavored Johnnie Walker Black Label goes very well with a cheese platter.

6. An important thing to remember when pairing food and Whisky is not only the taste, but also the aromas and texture of the pairing.

Here are some more recommended food and Whisky pairings to try!

How to organize a whisky tasting dinner

A great way to promote your food and Whisky pairing in your outlet is to organize a Whisky tasting dinner. Not only does this showcase an alternative to food and Wine pairing, but it could also give your outlet an exciting new offering to customers. If you do not want to do a full-course Whisky dinner you could also do tapas food and Whisky pairing as another option.

For the perfect Whisky dinner, it is important to keep things simple and, wherever possible, use the freshest ingredients. Follow these steps to ensure that your tasting night is a success:

1. Starting the evening

It is a good idea to have somebody who can give a short introduction to each of the dishes and who can explain why they are being served with the selected Whiskies.

A point should be made at the very start of the evening that nobody should feel pressured into finishing every glass.

2. Keep the menu simple

The most successful dinners are those in which the food is kept simple and the flavors of both the Whisky and dishes work well together.

3. Arrange the order of serves

It makes sense to start the dinner with lighter Whiskies, building up progressively to a stronger full-bodied Whisky.

4. Glassware

The choice of glass throughout dinner should reflect the progression of different Whiskies served with the five courses and can allow for a little theater in how you serve the Whiskies. Typically this means a champagne flute with the first course, a white wine glass with the second, a red wine glass with the main course, a small dessert wine glass with the dessert and a brandy balloon or large red wine glass for the full-bodied Whisky, such as Lagavulin™, with the cheese course. It can be interesting to experiment with serves, such as chilling the glass in the freezer or serving one of the Whiskies mixed with sparkling water for some effervescence. Get creative and have fun.

5. Whisky measurements

A measure of Whisky is between .75 and 1 ounce—the size of a shot glass. For each course of the meal, only one serving of the matching Whisky should be offered.

Bottled water should be on the table at all times for people to help themselves, both to dilute Whiskies to taste and also to sip from during the meal.

6. Finding the perfect dilution

Dilution is a key to the success of every dinner. It is usually suggested that people take a tiny sip of the undiluted Whisky before eating and dilute their Whisky to taste thereafter. It is always worth making the point that dilution opens the Whisky up in terms of its complex aroma while taking away any harshness of the neat spirit, which can in any case be overwhelming when drinking it with food, and particularly with delicate dishes. It is equally important to point out that over-dilution results in Whisky-flavored water, which is not in any way desirable.

7. Don’t be afraid to serve cocktails

Some Scotch cocktails can also work beautifully with food, so don’t limit yourself to just serving Scotch straight up. This can also be a great way of opening up a pairing experience to someone who is a little intimidated by Scotch or is concerned about the robust flavors being too challenging.