The Do and Don'ts

Martine Nouet takes us through some essential tips for food pairing
By Martine Nouet
After having explored so many avenues in matching whisky and food, I thought it would be helpful to sum up a few principles into guidelines for those of you who enjoy inviting whisky to their table.

Whisky dinners have gained popularity, not always featuring the most harmonious matches though as too often these are only based on aromatic profiles without taking account of the textures, the colours and the cooking techniques.

The scientific approach of the chemistry of aromas certainly brings a valuable side to the subject and I am ready to learn more from molecular cuisine but I also believe in basing all work on sensory evaluation, flair, experience and a reasonable expertise in culinary techniques.

This ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ approach will (hopefully) give you some guidelines to conduct your own experiences. It is aimed to fulfil one goal: enjoyment and fun.

So, we will start by scanning your cupboards and fridge and see which ingredients we can play with, assuming your drink cabinet already contains all the whiskies of the world.

We will examine the cooking techniques and serving tips another time.


An interesting fruit which offer a large array of matching when ripe and juicy as well as when dried.


Serve apricot (and custard) pie with Speyside malts such as Glenlivet, Longmorn, or Glenlossie.


Match an apricot based dish with an oaky malt, the sourness of the fruit clashes with the bitter edge of the whisky.


A whole laboratory for your experiments. Cheese and whisky is one of the most successful duos.


Pair a blue cheese with a peated whisky, for instance Lagavulin and Lanark Blue (with a toasted slice of “pain de campagne” and a stick of celery as the bridge).


Present the same whisky on an assortment of cheeses, which would include a cheddar as well as a goat cheese and a blue cheese.
The harmony can’t be achieved. Select cheeses from a same family.


Obviously the most commonly practiced marriage.


Keep the dark chocolate for rich, deep, older whiskies matured in sherry casks.


I personally am not a
fan of mint chocolate with whisky. The mint and the crystallized sugar mixed with the chocolate cloy on the palate and make the whisky heavier or even overwhelms it.


Many malts matured in ex-bourbon casks reveal a custardy creaminess on the nose as well as on the palate.


With coffee, marry it to Glenrothes 1985; with orange zest, Aberlour 18 Years Old and with coconut, Auchentoshan Classic.


Add whisky to custard. I always find it sickly. Cognac and rum work but not whisky.

Dried fruit

The friends of whisky are nuts!


Almond for younger whiskies, toasted hazelnuts for older ones and walnuts for old timers.


Nothing to go wrong.


The perfect companion of sherried whiskies.


Use a syringe to inject the whisky (that you can mix with a runny honey) into the duck flesh.


Try to pair duck with a light floral single malt.



No way.


Said to kill vampires. It does the same for whisky.


Two great pairings: either with a peaty/iodinic malt or with a bourbon cask matured one.


Deglaze the pan with a good dash of whisky, a pinch of ginger and a few drops of lime juice.


Marinate the langoustines in whisky before cooking.


What a great combination!


Just two drops of Laphroaig in a fleshy oyster.


It is an error to keep the first water once opened. They will “make” another, less salty.


Young Speysiders, Lowlands, Irish whiskeys get on with pears.


Serve pears with blue cheese.


No problems with pears. Just adapt the recipe.

Root vegetables

Among the vegetables, the root ones are the easiest to match.


When you have roasted root vegetables in the oven, add a dash of whisky in the bottom of the dish and stir before serving.


I can’t see why you could go wrong with root vegetables


Lamb lettuce with its fat texture and cress with its spiciness perform very well.


Use the salad as a “platform” to display other ingredients.


Avoid soaking the salad in a heavy dressing.

Smoked salmon

A common marriage.


Add lemon and dill. Excellent bridges with the whisky.


Pair smoked salmon with a smoky whisky. They totally clash.


It can be an excellent enhancer but to be handled carefully.


Use balsamic vinegar; it is less sour and offers an interesting aromatic range.


Raw vinegar. When cooked it loses its tanginess.

Some reminders

Just a few principles which to me are essential in food pairing. Some may look obvious but, believe me, they are not systematically observed.

  • Always cook with the freshest ingredients.

  • Avoid confusion by combining a whole spectrum of flavours. I always work in a triangular dimension: one main ingredient (whether it be meat, fish, salad, fruit etc) and two minor ones acting in opposition, fusion or complementing.

  • Find a bridge between the whisky and the food, a ‘hyphen’ which will facilitate the matching because it enhances a common point. It can be a condiment, a spice, or a bigger ingredient. A common denominator in fact.

  • Stick to the season. Forget stews in summer or strawberries in winter. Choose your whisky accordingly as, even within the range of a single distillery, there is a seasonal profile in whiskies.

  • To strengthen the marriage between the dish and the whisky, you can (but not systematically) add whisky in the preparation. In this case whisky will act as a seasoning ingredient.