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Pairing Food with Scotch PDF Print E-mail

This article isn't meant to be a primer.  It is more of a beckon to experiment pairing food with the "other" beverage called scotch.  If this is your spirit of choice, there is no good reason to restrict enjoyment until after dinner.  Yes, there is the challenge of working with such a complex and multi-layered liquid component.  But the reward is a taste sensation that transcends the simple meal.



To begin your pairing journey you need to know a little bit about Scotch.  It is not a homogenous taste category.  There are wildly different flavor signatures across regions and distilleries.  Barley is the only constant, but when malted, fermented and matured in oak casks, it takes on many personalities from sweet and fruity to medicinal and smokey.  Profiles vary from house to house and cask to cask.  To complicate things further, there are many distinct notes in each dram beginning with the nose, then progressing to the palate and finally the finish.  A complex whisky may have double digit aroma and flavor characteristics.  Here lies the challenge as well as the reward.



Before you start pairing, take some time to learn your own palate and which whiskies you like and dislike.  Concentrate on their flavors, then try a single ingredient to understand how food develops the flavor notes of whisky and vice versa.  The easiest matches are those with complementary tastes.  Take a look at a most interesting website called "The Flemish Primitives" and its companion site:  This website reveals food items that are so close in profile that they actually work as ingredient substitutions.  Once you are comfortable with compatibility, progress to more complex and daring marriages.  There is only one absolute rule in food pairing:  "Don't overwhelm the food or drink with the flavor of the other".



Be cognizant of the texture and body of whisky.  They play an important role in the total sensory experience.  With scotch you will experience a much greater mouth feel than with most wines.  This should be exploited to its fullest and most gratifying advantage.  The velvetiness of perfectly cooked venison will be enhanced by the silkiness of certain malts.  Choose a creamy whisky to accentuate the richness of foods such as foie gras.  Matching is a matter of putting it all together.  Complementary flavors and textures in symmetry will heighten the taste experience, but be careful with smokey foods and whiskies.  Smoked foods actually pair better with sweet or malty scotches, while smokey whiskies fair well with citrus flavors, fresh fish and seafood.



If you identify a certain spice in your spirit, try a dish that uses that spice in its recipe.  Stretch beyond the main entree and pair with appetizers and desserts.  You might also want to consider the influence of the seasons by pairing a light citrusy scotch with a summer picnic or matching  robust and aromatic malts with autumn dishes.



Sometimes the most successful pairings are the ones that contrast flavor and texture.  Look across the flavor wheel and play with a range of foods on the opposite side to add excitement to your pairings.  Try a sweet malt with a spicy Indian dish. Read recipes from the most creative chefs of today and try your own interpretations.  Have fun, break the rules, but indulge in each new sensation.  With a little willingness to experiment you may discover a most divine and unusual result.  "Peppery scotch with oysters anyone?" 



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