...and the match

There has been a growing interest in matching food with whiskey over the last few years. Whiskey’s complex character and broad range of flavours means it can suit certain foods quite well. However, there are still plenty of sceptics who believe that wine is much better suited to an evening meal. If unsure, err on the side of caution. Instead of going overboard and pairing an entire meal with whiskey, try simply serving the appetiser, dessert or cheese course with a whiskey to begin with and gauge the reaction.

The same principles that apply to wine matching apply to whiskey matching. Flavours can either be complemented or contrasted. You’re looking for a balance – the whiskey should not dominate the food and vice versa.

Texture is just as important as flavour. A smooth and silky whiskey will contrast nicely with the likes of a crumbly and salty cheese while the ‘burn’ from a fiery whiskey can counterbalance the sweetness of a dessert.

Smoke and peat are common flavours found in whiskey, such as Kilbeggan (whiskey no.6). They go particularly well with smoked foods, such as salmon, mackerel, oysters, mussels, duck, chicken or venison.

Whiskeys with a touch of sweetness, such as vanilla, complement the likes of scallops well.

In Japan, where there is a growing tradition of matching whiskey and food, they often pair some of their indigenous whiskies with sushi, as the salty, briny notes of the whiskey complements the fresh taste of the sea.

Save the richer whiskeys, particularly those that have been aged in sherry or bourbon casks, for bolder flavours, such as a rare or medium steak, pulled pork, barbecued ribs or roast venison.

Any spicy food should be reserved for whiskeys with an element of sweetness or fruitiness. Indian food works well with sweet, intense malts while foods cooked in the tandoor suit the smokier varieties.

A safer bet is to keep the whiskey match for the dessert course. Christmas desserts, such as mince pies, fruit cake and puddings come into their own here but luxurious pudds such as a chocolate soufflé, a sticky toffee pudding or a creme brûlée pair nicely with those whiskies with a sweeter edge boasting similar flavours, for example, the Teeling Single Grain (whiskey no. 12). In the States, pecan pie and a glass of bourbon is a southern speciality. Try out Gareth Mullin’s version on page 28 with the bourbon-aged Knappogue Castle (whiskey no. 15). Try pairing the likes of Redbreast (whiskey no. 14) or Cassidy’s (whiskey no. 2) with their touches of orange peel with a good orange-flavoured dark chocolate to bring out those citrus flavours.

An even safer bet is finishing a meal with cheese and whiskey. The fruity, smoky and sweet elements of whiskey act like a chutney for the cheese. Sharp, hard cheddars will be better balanced by a tumbler of fruity whiskey while the likes of Roquefort is best served with a peaty single malt. Bear the strength of the cheese in mind when choosing your whiskey.


Whiskey Smoked Chicken

Whiskey chicken

Smoked foods go particularly well with smoky and peaty whiskeys. This recipe is usually made with bourbon but The Irishman Single Malt (whiskey no.10) which is matured in bourbon casks and has a smoky, buttery flavour, should work just as well.

Serves 4-6


For the marinade

  • 1.5 litres water
  • 130ml whiskey or bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme or oregano


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Applewood chips


  1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in one large pot and bring to the boil. Stir until all the sugar and salt is dissolved in the liquid. Allow to cool.
  2. Once cool, add the whole chicken to the marinade, cover and refrigerate overnight, turning once if possible.
  3. Remove the chicken and pat dry. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, onion and garlic and rub the chicken with olive oil. Season.
  4. Place the wood chips in the smoking tray of your grill, placing the chicken on a rack above it, meat facing down. Turn the grill on to a medium high heat, close the door and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes, turning every 20 minutes. The length of time depends on your oven and the size of the chicken. The chicken is cooked once the juices run clear. Allow the chicken to rest for 20 minutes.
  5. This works well as part of a salad, in a pasta dish or served on its own with a few sides. Serve with a glass of the same whiskey that was used to marinade the chicken.

Drink Match