Matching whisky with food can seem challenging but it doesn’t need to be. Our Ambassador Phoebe joined a tasting session at SMWS Queen Street to sample some spring pairings and learned how easy it can be.

I like to think of whisky drinkers as open-minded people who are willing to try something a little different. Needless to say, if we weren’t then we wouldn’t have the variety of whiskies on offer to choose from in the first place. Variety, in all shapes and sizes, is what makes whisky so special.

Having an open-mind is important when it comes to tastings, especially any which involve pairing whisky with food. I myself know the challenges that come with matching a dram to sweet treats from my Dessert & Drams North American tasting tour last autumn.

Last week I joined the first of many Society Spring Sampling Sessions at the Queen Street venue in Edinburgh. I was drawn to the event after reading that guests were encouraged to ‘leave any preconceptions at the door and join us for a taster session to see for yourself.’

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We were treated to two Society whiskies paired with two seasonal plates. I invited two friends to join me at the event – one a whisky drinker (Zoe) and one categorically not a whisky drinker (Claire) – as an experiment of sorts to see how the food pairings were received.

Society ambassador Jeremy Antonson, talked us through the pairings and explained how he selected the whiskies in front of us. His first pairing was 50.76: Booze up in a bakery which was served with a smoked salmon citrus cup.

“With the salmon, we usually will try to find something that is a bit citrusy and zesty, a light and fresh dram to start things off right. You don’t want to overwhelm your senses with the very first dram.”

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This one really worked for me, I liked the whisky before, but loved it after trying it with the food. It became sweeter and fruiter with big rich toffee notes. The whole group seemed to agree that this one worked – there wasn’t a drop of whisky left in anyone’s glass, nor a scrap of food left behind.

The second pairing was cask 48.70: Divas do Disco! paired with a pigeon and beetroot dish.

“The pigeon and beetroot are stronger flavours, so you can up the intensity of flavours in the dram to match the dish”, Jeremy said.

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It was an interesting pairing – a few people mentioned the dram was nice on its own but didn’t quite have the strong, bold flavours to stand up to the beetroot, which I agree with. Not that it stopped me tucking into both.

As for how the pairings were received, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Claire had finished both drams – the first time she’s ever done so. As the tasting wrapped up, I asked her what on earth had happened to make her suddenly enjoy whisky.

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“I think the food took the edge off. Normally I find whisky undrinkable – it’s too strong and leaves an unpleasant burning feeling at the back of my throat”, she said.

“I had a little sip of the whisky before trying the food and I wasn’t won over. But when I tried them with the food they seemed easier to drink and I actually enjoyed them both!”

The Spring Sampling Sessions are taking place throughout March and tickets are only £9 – book on to the next one here.


Jeremy’s top tips for pairing food and whisky

Whisky & Seafood
“When pairing with seafood dishes you can either go light, citrusy and zesty, or you can go for something smoky and salty – a lightly peated or peated dram. These are particularly good with stronger seafood flavours like shellfish or more flavourful fishes.”

Whisky & meat
“Something big and fruity, maybe with some spiciness goes well with red meats like venison or steak. The stronger flavours in the dish match well with the stronger flavours in the dram.”

Grain whisky & desserts
“You really want to match intensity in the dram with intensity in the dish. This is why we’ll often pair something sweet and fruity with desserts. Our grain whiskies are usually a good pairing as they are often quite sweet and fruity.”