Open up the flavour

Not all whiskeys can be paired
By Seáneen Sullivan
On the fifth batch of ice cream, I admitted defeat. After 24 egg yolks, three litres of cream, and having exhausted the contents of my spice rack, I came to the conclusion that some whiskeys are best savoured on their own without food. The whiskey that brought on this revelation was Bushmills 21 Years Old Single Malt. It is a cracker of a whiskey, teeming with lush toffee, dried fruit and nuts. Yet when paired with the typical bedfellows for these flavours of vanilla, coffee or dark chocolate, the food failed to enliven any new flavour discoveries in the whiskey. For me, pairing whiskey and food is a joy. It can be fun, frivolous, but most often, it is revealing. The right match for a whiskey can reveal flavours bound tightly within in the whiskey that weren't evident before the pairing. Some whiskeys however, are best left unadorned, there is no need to gild a lily.

While I may have struck out with the oldest of the Bushmills single malts, there is plenty of scope for pairing within the range. The two blends (Original and Black Bush) are extremely versatile but it is the 10 Years Old single malt that really surprised me. The flavours are bolder than I had recalled, a testament to the skill and care of distiller Colum Egan and blender Helen Mulholland. A highlight of a recent visit to the distillery was seeing Colum giddily chowing down on a ham and cheese toastie, a twist on the classic Irish pub staple that I had suggested alongside a Bushmills 10 Years Old Single Malt. This pairing works much the same way as pineapple on a pizza does. The saltiness of the ham, the umami of the cheese and the graininess of the bread bounce off the vibrant tropical fruit sweetness of the whiskey and creates a lingering finish on the palate, almost reminiscent of guava. At the same time, the sweetness of the whiskey cuts through the smoke and cheese of the snack and lifts everything off your palate, readying it for another bite. The touch of oiliness that exists naturally in the whiskey is counterbalanced with the rich fattiness of the cheddar cheese.

To try the pairing yourself, make sure to use sourdough bread buttered on both sides with plenty of unsalted butter, good quality ham and grated strong cheddar. Weighing the sandwich down on the pan as it toasts will create a beautiful crust that plays up on the malty flavours in the whiskey.

My suggested sweet pairing is a bit more complicated, but you could simplify it by buying good quality lemon curd, and substituting out the ginger pastry for a ginger nut biscuit crumb made from a packet of crumbled ginger nut biscuits mixed with 125g melted butter and pressed into a tart tin base before setting in the fridge. This pairing allows the liveliness and vibrancy of the natural ginger and citrus of the whiskey to really come to the fore, amplifying them and then allowing milk chocolate and vanilla depth to reveal themselves. The banana is caramelised with a brûlée gun in brown sugar, extending the natural fruity finish of the whiskey, allowing it to go on and on with the brûlée bookending the caramelised toffee sweetness.

Lemon and ginger tart

Ginger pastry, set lemon curd & brûléed banana

Tart cases


  • 350g flour

  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • 3tsp ground ginger

  • 1tsp ground cinnamon

  • 125g butter

  • 175g light brown sugar

  • 1 free range egg

  • 60ml golden syrup

1. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon and place in a food processor. Add the butter and blend until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
2. Beat the egg and golden syrup together, add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture clumps together.
3. Tip the dough out, knead briefly until smooth, wrap in clingfim and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 180C.
5. Grease a 24 hole mini muffin tin and roll out dough to 5mm thickness. You could also use a large tart tin if you prefer, but I like individual portions.
6. Using a round cutter slightly larger than the tin recesses, cut rounds of the dough and press into muffin tins.
7. Return to the fridge for 10 minutes. Place small circles of greaseproof paper in each recess on top of the pastry and bake for 10–12 minutes.
8. Cool in tray and then turn out, leaving to cool and storing at room temperature.

Lemon curd


  • 175g caster sugar

  • zest and juice of 2 lemons

  • 3 eggs and 1 egg yolk

  • 125g butter

  • pinch of citric acid (optional)

1. Place all ingredients other than the eggs and yolk into a heat proof bowl set over simmering water, but not touching the water. Stir the mixture every now and again until all of the butter has melted.
2. Whisk the eggs and egg yolk and stir them into the lemon mixture. Whisk until all of the ingredients are well combined, then leave to cook for 10–13 minutes, stirring every now and again, until the mixture is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
3. Remove the lemon curd from the heat and pass through a fine sieve.
4. Set aside to cool, topped with greaseproof paper to prevent a skin forming.

Brûléed banana


  • 3 bananas

  • 100g caster sugar

  • unwaxed orange zest, sliced into 3mm diamonds

1. Slice banana into rounds.
2. Place cut side down in caster sugar and then brûlée with a blow torch.
3. Top with orange zest and serve immediately.

Assembly instructions

Fill tart cases with lemon curd and set for half an hour in the fridge. Top with brûléed banana and orange peel and serve immediately.