By Bob Lipinski
‘Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whisky, and a dog to eat the rare steak.’
— Johnny Carson, 1925-2005, Television Host and Comedian
Whiskey, a brown-colored distilled spirit, is made in over 50 countries. Whiskey, by definition, is an alcoholic distillate made from a fermented mash of various grains distilled at less than 190-proof. Whiskeys are distinguished by the grain used, the proof at which the mash is distilled, and the age.
The major categories of whiskey produced globally are American Blended, Bourbon, Canadian, Corn, Irish, Japanese, Rye, Scotch, and Tennessee.
Enjoying whiskey with food
Whiskey mixes well with water, seltzer, cola, and ginger ale, and is a base for countless recipes and concoctions. Yet how many people enjoy whiskey with food? Basically, there is a general lack of knowing how to pair whiskey with food and which whiskies to use.
When looking for a whiskey to pair with food, there are many things to consider… different countries, grain blends, proof levels, and types of whiskey (blended, malt, straight), cask strength, single barrel, small batch, and so forth. Also, how long the whiskey was aged in wood, the type of wood used for aging, and “finishing” woods, which are popular among distillers. As much as 60 to 70 percent of the aroma and flavor of whiskey comes from the aging process in new, charred barrels (less for second-use barrels).
Look for similarities in the smell and taste of the whiskey and the food to be paired. As an example, most whiskey has an aroma and flavor of nuts (derived from barrel aging), so a dessert containing nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and so forth) would be a good match.
Other aroma and flavor descriptors
Whiskies that have aromas and flavors of cocoa, caramel, maple sugar, and ginger can be enjoyed with desserts and various sauces.
Whiskies that have fruit aromas and flavors like apple, dates, figs, honey, orange, and raisins can be paired with meats and poultry containing fruit glazes.
Whiskies that have aromas and flavors of spices, such as black and white pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, are great for meat with dry rubs.
Whiskies with aromas and flavors of oak, vanilla, smoke, black coffee, and toasted nuts pair with smoked, grilled, and blackened meats, pulled pork, and smoky mushrooms. Other foods to pair with smoked elements are most smoked fish, cheese, turkey, and game, and briny oysters with a smoky-briny Scotch whisky.
Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need To Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He consults and conducts training seminars on Wine, Spirits, and Food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR [email protected].