Oisin Davis explores the tradition of pairing whiskey and beer and speaks to a selection of whiskey professionals for their recommendations.
"Having a whiskey without a beer is like having a burger without fries."
As quotes go, it doesn't have the universal depth of something from an astronaut or world leader, but its poignant words resonated with me and it's now become one of my many alcohol-related mantras. Prepare your palate by coating it with a guzzle of cool creamy beer. Let its effervescent maltiness coat every corner of your mouth and now that you've had a smooth take-off, bring it up a notch. Gently sip a little whiskey. What might well be a little fierier has now been tempered by the beer. It's like dipping your foot into a bath to get acclimatised before going all in. Others might even liken it to a wee bit of foreplay before the main event(!).
The ritual of enjoying a whiskey and beer together in Ireland is as old our traditions of brewing and distilling. Centuries ago, whenever a beer wasn't of the highest quality, it could be helped along by a little serving of uisce beatha and sometimes, I'm sure, it was the other way around.
Breaking it down, the simple reason for it being such a delightful culinary pleasure lies in the fact that both Irish beers and Irish whiskies have practically the same DNA. For the large part, the only difference in their ingredients is that beer will contain hops to deliver balance to the sweetness.
Now that both our breweries and distilleries are thriving again, there has never been a better time to enjoy their respectively glorious products together. But with such a mind-boggling array of options, I figured the best way we could get a suss on the best pairings, would be to reach out to some Irish whiskey folk. Below you'll find recommendations from a whiskey blender, an ambassador, a director and a manager. Each has their own take on how the two liquids best complement each other and each has their own story to share.
Brand Education & Advocacy Team Manager for IDL/Pernod Ricard
Pairing: Redbreast 12-year-old with Sunburnt Irish Red Ale from Eight Degrees Brewery
Ger manages the Brand Ambassador Team for Irish Distillers here in Ireland but is still very active in educating consumers, bartenders and anyone interested in Irish Whiskey. This will take on the history, production and unique stories of IDL's Irish whiskies such as Redbreast, Jameson and Midleton to name a few. With over 16 years in the whiskey business and 19 years experience in the drinks industry under his belt, he's a well known and respected figure in Irish hospitality circles.
"Before we start it might be helpful to point out there is no right or wrong way to enjoy Redbreast with Sunburnt Irish Red Ale or any other beer. Pick up one glass and take a sip. Enjoy and then pick up the other glass and take a sip. It does not matter in what order, whiskey first or beer first. This is just the order I tasted it in, so let’s jump in!"
"The malted barley in this Irish red ale gives off aromas of caramel and berries, with a hint of citrus peel. This combines well with the rich sherry notes in this Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, as well as the toasted oak and dark chocolate characteristics of Redbreast. Redbreast has a rich, full mouthfeel, where round dried fruits such as raisin, fig and sultanas combine with soft cinnamon, which works really well with the caramel and soft hoppy citrus flavours in Sunburnt Irish Red Ale. The gentle, bitter finish of Eight Degrees Sunburnt Red Ale contrasts and complements the long soft warm and slightly sweet, warm and slightly spicy finish of Redbreast 12-Year-Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey."
Founder of J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey
Pairing: J.J. Corry The Gael with Western Herd Blue Jumper IPA
Louise has spent a 20-year career in the drinks industry working abroad for multinational drinks companies. In 2015, she packed it all in and moved back from Singapore to her family farm in County Clare to resurrect the lost art of Irish Whiskey Bonding. Louise sources Irish Whiskey and matures it in specially selected casks and when ready blends it to create unique whiskies under the J.J. Corry Brand.
"I’ve selected J.J. Corry The Gael, and Western Herd Blue Jumper. Western Herd is my local craft brewery run by a brother and sister team Maeve and Micheal Eustace in Kilmaley Co. Clare. We share a lot of commonalities as we’ve both set up our businesses on our family farm. Our first release The Gael is a 60% malt, 40% grain blend, with whiskies ranging in age from 7 to 26 years old. It’s a complex fruity style of Irish whiskey. It balances perfectly with Blue Jumper IPA, which has fresh citrus tones and a nutty chewy finish. Also, it’s a 100% Co. Clare pairing, which I love."
Senior Jameson Brand Ambassador, UK
Pairing: Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition with Eight Degrees Knockmealdown Stout
An Irishman now based in London for the last four years, Ronan started off his career as a bartender in Dublin before moving to New York for a stint. In London, he worked as head bartender in Trailer Happiness before joining the prestigious team in Dandelyan. In the last couple of years, he has worked as a brand ambassador for Jameson, which takes him all around the UK.
"I bloody love drinking Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition with Eight Degrees Knockmealdown Stout. What a flavour combination!! My favourite boilermaker of all time. On the first sip of the beer, I get coffee nestled in with a butterscotch & brown sugar sweetness. That's followed after by a long-lasting finish of perfectly bitter hops and malt. These are all notes that are also highly abundant in the Jameson Caskmates so all the flavours between the whiskey and beer are beautifully amplified. If you like Tiramisu and the decadent life then this is the paring for you."
Master Blender, Bushmills Irish Whiskey
Pairing: Black Bush with Hercules Brewing’s Yardsman Original Double Stout
At this point, few people know the intricate notes, aromas and flavours of Bushmills Irish Whiskey better than their master blender Helen Mulholland. It’s such an important part in crafting the premium blends and aged single malts. With a Master’s Degree in Science, she began her career in the small laboratory at The Old Bushmills Distillery and today, after 25 years, she has been steeped in the art of whiskey-making and blending.
"I wanted to find the perfect match for Black Bush. It’s a versatile, premium blend with a high proportion of malt whiskey and it is matured in sherry casks, bringing out big, robust flavours of dried fruits and nuts. These flavours make it the ideal whiskey for pairing with a malty stout. Hercules Brewing’s Yardsman Original Double Stout works well here, and it also happens to be a fellow Northern brand, with Hercules Brewing Company based in Belfast and Black Bush in the Old Bushmills Distillery up on the North Coast. The creamy feel of the stout expertly complements the velvety smooth character of the whiskey due to its high malt content. It’s a strong, balanced pairing with the stout enhancing the flavour of the whiskey without overpowering it."