This year we are celebrating Christmas and NYE in a very different way to what we are used to. In many places house guests aren’t recommended or they are limited to very few. Restaurants and bars may remain closed or with restricted timetables and seating, so we have no choice but to create our own meals and entertainment.
Christmas time is for eating, so the fridge door will go non-stop. Whether you are enjoying pre-dinner nibbles or showing off with your dessert, pairing foods with whisky, mulled wine or other drinks will make a great addition to the evening. And it will offer your family a little extra entertainment. Why not make a tasting of it: choose three whiskies and matching canapés or mini G&T serves paired with a tray of snacks?
Before you get started, there are a few things to keep in mind when pairing food with spirits.
- Avoid foods that are strong in garlic or overly spicy as these will kill the flavour of any spirit.
- If you are serving spicy food, Plata tequila is the best match.
- Often spirits with strong flavours match well with stronger foods and lighter spirits with foods with a lighter flavour profile, but you want the pairing to complement each other rather than being too matchy matchy.
- Fatty foods generally work well with a range of scotch whiskies.
- Cask-strength spirits will pair better with a few drops of water added. Try without water first and add as you go along.
- Many fish dishes work well with a wide range of spirits, but sushi can be hit and miss when paired with single malts.
- Fresh and dried fruits work well with whisky, but it is better to avoid citrus unless it is used to flavour a cake or marmalade.
- Most gins pair well neat, as a G&T when using premium quality dry tonic or as Martini.
- Sherries are great paired with classic tapas dishes or simpler nibbles such as olives and nuts.
Delicious food and drink pairing ideas
Fruitier, sweeter Speyside single malts pair extremely well with a wide variety of foods. Try camembert, mature cheddar, mince pies, gingerbread, rosemary focaccia, roasted nuts, dark chocolate and ginger biscuits. Heavily sherried whisky is a match made in heaven with rich Christmas pudding.
Serving suggestion: If the flavour profile of the whisky is rich and deep, try it with gingerbread biscuit topped with blue cheese.
Spicy and rich scotch also works well with various meat dishes with strong flavours. Try venison, lamb or a good old steak. Dark chocolate and coffee flavours both make a great pairing (Tiramisu, anyone?) with strong, rich single malts.
Serving suggestion: Try mini lamb and feta burgers with minty yoghurt with spicy and rich scotch.
Heavily peated single malt is best matched with gouda, strong blue cheeses, chorizo, haggis (especially if the whisky is aged in sherry cask), hot-smoked salmon or many other fish dishes or meat that has a subtle smokiness to it. Dried fruit with sweeter nuts is an easy pairing.
Serving suggestion: Mix ricotta or crème fraiche with cream cheese, smoked fish, lemon juice, dill, salt, pepper and horseradish. This makes a great topping for canapés.
Lightly peated or more savoury scotch can be used to pair with oysters. Simply add a few drops on top of the oyster and enjoy. It can also pair well with sushi or Cullen Skink (creamy fish soup). Persimmon brings out the floral notes in lightly peated or savoury whisky.
Light fragrant single malts or zesty malts go nicely with soft creamy cheeses, brie, olives (try olive focaccia), fish dishes and chocolate orange.
Serving suggestion: Slice soft, mild goat’s cheese into the bottom of a glass dish, chop plenty of mixed fresh herbs on top and coat with extra-virgin olive oil. Cover with cling film and leave to sit in the fridge for a few hours. Take the dish to room temperature an hour before serving. Serve with fresh bread and lighter, fruity or floral whisky.
Blended whisky (not just scotch) works well with a range of sushi, quiche, chicken liver pâté, mild dark chocolates and cakes with vanilla.
Grain whiskies are sugary and sweet, full of caramel, vanilla and baked-fruit flavours. This makes them ideal for most dessert pairings.
Rye whiskey goes well with milk chocolate, either plain or with added ginger or chilli. Food with a subtle spiciness pairs well with rye but avoid anything too spicy or your palate will be ruined for the night. Other foods to pair with rye whiskey are salted peanuts, spicy shrimp cocktail and onion rings.
Bourbon is complemented by sliced ham or pigs in blankets with mustard. Thick-cut or triple-cooked chips with a nice crunchy texture pair nicely with the smoothness of bourbon. Or for dessert try a slice of apple pie. Bourbon also pairs well with pretty much any type of chocolate.
Serving suggestion: Try bourbon with mini scotch egg served with mustard and apple mayonnaise.
Tequila Anejo is usually sweeter with notes of caramel, winter spices and roasted agave. It makes a lovely pairing with toasted banana bread, brownies, coffee cake and dark chocolate. For a savoury option try sweet potato fries.
Reposado tequila works nicely with fatty foods such as pork and cheeses (cheesy pizza or mac and cheese, anyone?) or classic Mexican street food such as tacos or nachos platters.
Tequila Plata is excellent with spicier seafood, including sushi and white meat.
Mezcal goes with dark chocolate – try a slightly spicy one. The smoky and earthy flavours of Mezcal pair well with mushroom dishes, roasted vegetables and cheeses.
Serving suggestion: Try Mezcal with Italian mushroom & parmesan risotto or with cheese and spinach baked mushrooms.
French-style rum brings out the best in goat’s cheese, aged gouda or brie. Darker fruitier rum pairs well with rich fruitcake. Sip rum with dark chocolate or brownies. Many rums pair nicely with coconut or grilled pineapple. Also, the freshness of a Mojito or Daiquiri can help to clean the palate when served with fatty foods such as sausage or salami.
Serving suggestion: Chop Parma ham into small slices and mix well with goat’s cheese. Season and use as a topping for crostini.
Rum can also be used in cooking and baking. Add it to a Christmas pudding, dry cakes or banoffee pie.
Oak-aged gin with a strong juniper presence pairs well with Scandinavian-style open sandwiches. Load a slice of rye bread with cured salmon or pickled herring.
Serving suggestion: Mini blinis topped with smoked salmon and dill crème fraiche.
Try savoury gins with cucumber or smoked salmon sandwiches. Or bring out the herbal notes with charcuterie meats, especially if they are seasoned with fennel or herbs, together with rosemary and/or olive focaccia. Chicken liver pâté is easily complemented by notes of juniper.
Serving suggestion: Herby mini gourmet sausage rolls are an ideal snack with many savoury gins.
Spicy gin (aged or not) pairs nicely with nutty cheeses. Why not make a G&T as this would pair well with both cheese and grapes? Just avoid cheeses that are strong, such as blue cheese. Oysters and other seafood are easily complemented by spicy and citrusy gins. Many Christmas cakes and desserts with spices such as ginger, cinnamon or nuttiness also work well here.
Serving suggestion: Match spicy gin with spiced prawns and coriander mayo.
Sweeter, fruitier gins work wonders with spicy sausages, fruit sorbets and cheesecake.
Serving suggestion: Mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and horseradish sauce.
Floral gin pairs well with simple cucumber sandwiches or desserts such as crème brûlée. Basically, these gins would make a great pairing with afternoon tea-style nibbles.
Pretty much all port goes well with a selection of cheeses, but especially blue cheese, cheddar and Red Leicester. Full-bodied and fruity port is also delicious with a dark chocolate brownie and red fruit. Pair aged Tawny port with apple pie, baked pear or figs or various pâtés. White port also works with pâté and a selection of sorbets.
Fino and Manzanilla work well with olives, nuts (especially almonds), cured meats, oysters, hard cheese and sushi.
Serving suggestion: Make a chorizo and potato tortilla. Cut into small cubes and serve with dry sherry.
Amontillado is a great match to seafood and fish dishes, creamy soups, many cheeses, chicken and other white meats.
Oloroso, Cream and Pedro Ximénez pairs well with dark chocolate, beef (mainly with dry Oloroso), blue cheese, fresh fruit and most desserts.
Mulled wine is best paired with savoury foods, such as duck and orange pâté, a selection of cheeses and crackers or blue cheese with gingerbread biscuits.
Do you have a favourite food and drink pairing? Are you going to match any of your Christmas foods with specific drinks this year?