Whiskey Pairing: Best Foods with Different Types of Whiskey

We all know that white wine goes with fish and red wine goes with red meat. But what about whiskey? When it comes to pairing food with whiskey, a lot of people are in the dark. Everyone knows that you can have your favorite glass of bourbon with a nice, juicy steak, but what about appetizers, fruits, snacks, or desserts?

Whiskey on its own is delicious, but it doesn’t always have to be the lone wolf. There are plenty of foods you can eat with your favorite whiskey that are perfectly compatible. Good whiskey – including bourbon – can provide the ideal match for certain foods, no matter how you take your drink. Just keep a few things in mind beforehand.

Pair Whiskey and Food

When it comes to pairing your whiskey and food, there are plenty of options available. And while there are no hard and fast rules that you need to adhere to, there are some guidelines you can follow that will give you a better idea of what foods taste better with what whiskeys.

Follow the Example Set by Wine

When you’re attempting to decide what to eat with your whiskey, follow the example wine sets. For example, delicate or lean items, like seafood or chicken, go better with white wines.

Whiskey’s equivalent would be something lighter, with lower-proof, that’s not going to overpower your food’s taste. And if you’re grilling up a nice, thick steak, then you’ll want a higher-proof, fuller-bodied whiskey.

Old Forester 100 Proof Signature Bourbon | Drizly

Bourbon /50% ABV / Kentucky, United States

Old Forester 100 Proof is handpicked from select barrels resulting in a spicy and robust Bourbon. It is bottled at 100 Proof to maintain its distinct character and cater to those who enjoy a higher proof.

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Proof Matters

When it comes to whiskey, the higher the proof, the more dominant the flavor and the bigger the presence. So if you’re drinking bourbon with 100-proof, you’ll want to pair it with an entree that’s assertive and bold. Think something like a thick ribeye, marinated in a flavorful sauce, finished with some spicy vegetables.

On the other hand, for lower-proof drinks, you’ll want something smooth and savory. This might be a mellow dish like pasta with alfredo or mushroom cream sauce. Nothing too powerful or in your face. You want to relish the offsetting flavors of the pasta and your whiskey.

Consider the Cask

Another easy way to manage your favorite whiskeys is to consider not only the proof, but the cask type. Many bourbon casks can create a certain type of sweetness in your whiskey. Most notably, you’ll notice a hint of vanilla, which makes these whiskeys good for most desserts. Still, some European casks will have a fruity flavor, which you can enjoy with lighter foods.

Think about Flavors

The most memorable food and whiskey pairings will occur when you match similar flavors. Think about it. Whiskeys have many notes. These range from smoke, to caramel, to honey, to maple. If you’re smart about it, a good pairing can draw out those flavors, not mask or overpower them.

If you’re eating barbecue, note whether the food is smokey or savory. It may even have some caramel notes. Match these caramel notes with a bourbon containing the same flavors. On the other hand, for zesty or spicy foods like salami or cheese, you can sip rye bourbon high in spice along with it.

Do Dessert

It’s a far cry from the sweetness of dessert wine, but you can certainly pair your whiskey with dessert as well. Whiskey’s layers of caramel, honey, vanilla, stone fruit, and raisins make it the perfect pairing with cheesecake or apple crisp.

Apple pie pairs well with autumn spice whiskey while creamy desserts will go better with a maple or root beer whiskey. And for something even more complex, pair your decadent chocolate dessert with hints of vanilla bourbon.

You don’t even have to be fancy. Keeping it simple by drizzling your favorite whiskey over a bowl of vanilla ice cream will do the trick just fine.

Excellent Pairings by Whiskey Type

whiskey and cheese

If you already have a favorite whiskey, but you’re unsure what food to pair it with, here’s a rundown of all of your options.

Bourbon

Bourbons tend to be sweet and full-bodied, so there’s no place for weak flavors here. You’ll want to pair your favorite bourbon with foods that are fatty, sweet and round, or even a little bit spicy.

Potato chips

The best potato chips to pair with bourbon are kettle-style, because the crunchy texture pairs so well with the rich, smooth flavor of the bourbon. However, the salt in the chips also helps with the beautiful contrast.

Bratwurst

This fatty meat pairs well with bourbon because bratwurst is bold without being too intimidating. It can stand up to the weight of the bourbon without overpowering it or being too spicy.

Oysters Rockefeller

While plain oysters pair better with a light-bodied whiskey, dressing your oysters up with bacon and seasoning adds strength to the otherwise subtle flavors. Oysters Rockefeller can stand their own ground when paired with a heavy bourbon.

Candied pecans

For a sweet treat, try this snack in the afternoon. Southern taste buds will love the overly sweet flavor of the soft pecans, and combined with bourbon, they almost melt in your mouth.

Rye

Rye Whiskey

Rye is known for its spice, and it can be a tough one to pair because it clashes with so many robust dishes. However, you can pair it quite nicely if you do it right. It deserves to be matched with bold characters and assertive seasonings.

Onion rings

You won’t believe how frozen onion rings will make your palette jump in the presence of a spicy rye. In fact, throwing some fry or onion ring seasoning on them fresh out of the oven is a match made in heaven.

Tangy goat cheese

Tang goes well with spice, so a lovely spread of goat cheese and radishes will make for a wonderful appetizer or afternoon snack.

Shrimp cocktail

Shrimp cocktail is bolder than light fish, so it pairs well with spicy rye, especially if you have some spicy cocktail sauce to go with it. In fact, the rye gives the entire dish a bit of a kick, if you really want to step up the spice.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is more bitter and less sweet than milk chocolate, so it pairs well with rye because it’s like adding a dash of bitters to your cocktail. Throw in some peanuts for a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and spicy.

Sherried single malt

whiskey and olive

This friendly whiskey is the Merlot of food pairings. It’s versatile enough to go with just about everything. It’s mild and moderate, with a wonderful sherry influence that allows it to pair well with different intensities.

Rosemary and olive oil focaccia

This dish is alive with herbs, and it really makes a sherried single malt whiskey dance. You’ll notice the otherwise dormant aromas in the whiskey when you pair it with something that makes your senses come alive.

Aged cheddar

This dry, sharp cheese does a great job of drawing out the fruity, nutty flavors of the sherried single malt. You’ll notice the fruity flavors on their own, but the nutty undertones sometimes need a bit of help. Throw in some roasted almonds for a delightfully nutty treat.

Smoked salmon

Smoked salmon does a great job of complimenting the nutty undertones of the sherried single malt without overpowering the taste of either component. It’s a pairing that will melt in your mouth when done right.

Peated single malt

whiskey and chocolate

The bold flavor of peated single malt is too overpowering for light dishes. The flavors you need to pair with this are dominant without being overly sweet. A hint of smoke can also bring out the earthy flavors of the whiskey.

Smoked almonds

You’ll get a great earthy pairing with some smoked almonds as a snack with your peated single malt. For some, it may be too much, but for others who crave that peaty flavor, it’s perfect.

Stilton cheese

This type of cheese is smooth and creamy with bold flavors and a bit of smoke. It’s the perfect complement to your peated single malt, especially when displayed on a platter with smoked almonds.

Chorizo

Pairing your peated single malt with spicy sausage will offer a surprisingly tame flavor combination. You’d think the opposite, but they really work well together for the perfect meal.

Smoked trout

If you’re craving fish, it’s a great way to get the fatty protein you need. It offers balanced weight and the flavors are enhanced by one another.

Dark chocolate

Once again, dark chocolate reigns supreme. The intensely bitter cocoa content adds depth to the peated single malt, while the earthy flavor of the whisky intensifies the chocolate.

Blended whiskey

Whiskey

Blended Canadian and Irish whiskeys tend to be more mild-mannered than their counterparts. They deserve to be paired with foods that are highly approachable thanks to their moderate character.

Quiche

The rich, soft flavor of the quiche brings out the sweetness of the blended whiskey while complementing the gentle spice. It’s a great Sunday brunch serving.

Cheese crackers

The cheesy flavor of these crackers blends in with the already blended flavor of the whiskey, making the entire snack a harmonious, but a subtle mix of flavors.

Vanilla biscuits and dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is at it again, but this time, pairing the whiskey with dark chocolate and vanilla biscuits. It will draw out the natural vanilla flavors of the whiskey and balance all of the flavors for a well-rounded dessert.

Excellent Pairings by Food Type

Now that you have a general idea of how to pair your whiskey with food, it’s time to talk about specific pairings you can try. These are tried and true combinations, but there’s also nothing wrong with a little experimenting of your own.

Cheeses

There are plenty of snack ideas for whiskey. One of the most surprising might be cheese. Because cheese comes in so many different varieties, you can find the perfect flavor to go with your favorite whiskey.

Cheese can be mild, sharp, or stinky, so experiment with different varieties and different bourbons to get just the right combination.

Smokey whiskey goes well with a sharp cheddar but a light, sweet whiskey will pair nicely with a soft cheese like brie. Offer an apple or pear spread to make this latter pairing even more fancy.

Buffalo Mozzarella with Sherry Cask Single Malt Bourbon

To start your meal off right, pair a Buffalo Mozzarella appetizer with a Sherry Cask single malt bourbon. The cheese is salty and the bourbon is sweet, so they make the perfect pair. For your entree, a smoked salmon will play nicely with a sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

These flavors are the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and smokey while remaining light and playful. Nothing is too heavy, so you’ll have plenty of room for more.

Nuts and snack mixes

whiskey and nuts

You can pair your whiskey with a variety of nut or snack mixes. You can pick plain snack mixes that contain things like pretzels and peanuts, or you can spice it up with a honey mustard flavor.

Pecans are generally sweet and pair well with strong whiskeys that have peaty flavors. Walnuts go well with sweeter whiskeys. If you want to pair your smokey whiskey with a nut, try roasted peanuts or almonds.

Entrees

If you’re serving dinner, there are plenty of entrees that go well with whiskey. In fact, with the sheer variety of whisky out there, you can pair it with anything you want.

Sushi

Believe it or not, light whiskey goes very well with seafood. Lighter whiskeys have hints of tang and sweetness, so they pair nicely with light fish and spicy flavors.

When it comes to sushi, mix up a spicy sauce to accompany it or make sure you have plenty of wasabi on hand. You can make a Sriracha mayo for the perfect combination of creamy, tart, and spicy.

The tang in the soy sauce will also bring out the tang in the whiskey. This tang also tends to bring out the flavors of raw fish.

Gamey proteins

If you’re fixing an elaborate roast duck or smoked venison, make sure you have flavorful roasted vegetables on the side and a great medium-bodied whiskey. You want to make sure your food and whiskey complement one another rather than overpowering the senses.

Gamey meats have smokey flavors, and medium-bodied whiskeys tend to be smokier than others. This really brings out the rich, savory sensation in the meat while the meat will offer a nice balance to any fruity undertones in your whiskey.

Root vegetables on the side will bring your meal down to earth by creating a well-rounded flavor profile. This is also the perfect way to make the meal more healthy.

If you need a vegetarian option here, you can make some portobello mushrooms for a tender, juicy entree that works well with the same whiskey.

Desserts

Full-bodies whiskeys have a ton of flavor. They spend more time aging in the barrel and absorb more flavor from the wood. They can be earthy or nutty, so it makes a wonderful chocolate pairing.

The darker the chocolate, the better. Lava cake, brownies, and ice cream are all great choices. Even a chocolate bar could be decadent. Even if you didn’t have whiskey with your meal, dessert is the perfect time to pour yourself a neat glass.

Lemon meringue pie and bourbon

Many whiskeys have notes of citrus or lemon peel, so pairing them with a lemon meringue pie or something else with citrus flavors is a fantastic choice. However, full-bodied whiskeys tend to have more vanilla and toffee notes that make your citrus dessert more well-rounded.

Baking With Whiskey

Whiskey Cake

Just like you can cook with wine, you can bake with whiskey! In fact, the variety of spices and flavors present in whiskey make it the perfect companion in the kitchen. Things like Irish coffee cake or donuts with a bourbon maple glaze are decadent and delicious.

Mistakes to Avoid

It’s just as important to be sure you’re not making any mistakes as it is to get the right pairing. Some of these things you may not even think of to begin with, but if you work around them, you’ll have a better experience.

Mix it up

Neat or on the rocks aren’t the only ways to serve whiskey. If you want to reduce the alcohol content a bit, try a highball. Diluting the whiskey and adding carbonation can bring out more of the individual flavors and make it pair better with your meal.

Don’t be matchy-matchy

You don’t want your flavors to overlap too much. While whiskey with a hint of spice goes well with spicy foods, if you don’t have any complimentary notes, you won’t experience any elevation of flavor for each component.

The key is to find duos that have a few overlapping flavors with others that complement one another. The whiskey and the food should amplify each other rather than drown each other out or be completely identical.

FAQ

If you’re trying to figure out how to pair your whiskey with food, you’ve come to the right place. These frequently asked questions may teach you a thing or two about drinking whiskey that you didn’t already know.

Question: Can you mix different types of whiskey?

Answer: Yes, you can! If you’re having trouble finding a whiskey you truly love, but there are a few you really like, you can mix them together. Mix whiskeys with complementary flavors and different body weights in different proportions until you find your own house blend that’s unique to your tastes.
There’s an infinite number of things you can try, so don’t stop if you don’t find something right away.

Question: How much whiskey a day is healthy?

Answer: We were all thinking it. For those of us who love whiskey, it’s tough not to pair it with a meal. But safe and responsible alcohol consumption is something we all need to be aware of. The good news is that you can have quite a bit before it becomes unsafe.
Typically, 3 units per day is said to be a safe amount, but you should have at least two alcohol-free days per week. Keep in mind that every person is different, so your limit may vary.

Question: What is the best top-shelf whiskey?

Answer: Whether you plan to drink it straight or pour a mixed drink, top-shelf whiskey is the best choice because it’s smoother and more intense in flavor than the cheap variety. Some reputable brands are Knob Creek, Crown Royal, Woodford, Maker’s Mark, and George Dickel.
Within each of these brands, you’ll find a variety of flavor profiles, and not every whiskey from every brand will appeal to every person. For example, Knob Creek Maple is a medium-full bodied whiskey that contains more sweet notes than traditional Knob Creek.
In addition, Wild Turkey Longbranch is a very well-liked whiskey, but traditional Wild Turkey is a few shelves down from this one, and may not be the best buy.
Of course, after experimenting a bit, you’ll find what you truly love, and it doesn’t have to be any of these.

Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey | Drizly

Bourbon /45% ABV / Kentucky, United States

Alive with smoked hickory and maple wood aroma and a hint of earthy grain, this blend has full-bodied, inviting maple notes that lift to smoke, complemented with rich vanilla and caramel flavors, finishing smoky, smooth, and slightly sweet. 

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Cheers!

Now you’re an expert on whiskey pairings. But don’t take my word for it. Go try it on your own. The more you experiment, the better at it you’ll be. Soon, you’ll have your own favorites and you’ll be ready to host a dinner party with a 7-course meal!

The principles of pairing whiskey are a lot like those of wine. Make sure the flavors compliment each other without competing for attention. However, your taste buds will be different than your neighbor, so there may be flavors you like that others don’t.

You won’t know until you try.

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