The Nights Are Drawing In

Winter whisky food pairings
By Seáneen Sullivan
Winter has settled in for another year. Autumn's mulchy woodland walks in the crisp air have given way to cautious excursions over icy paths and gloves are worn once again to protect us against the nippy frost. Scarves are back for another year, wound tightly against the cold, and an army of Dick Van Dyke-esque chimney sweeps have rid my Dublin village's fireplaces of soot in preparation for turf fires and cosy evenings in. Thoughts turn, as they usually do at this time of year to festive evenings shared with friends. Hosting a festive supper need not involve hours away from guests, slaving away in the kitchen while the convivial chatter carries on in another room. The key to a stress-free gathering is prepping and delegation. Accept all offers of help! If a guest offers to bring something, suggest crusty bread and cheeses for a shared ploughman's platter which will pair with countless drams. Bought spiced nut mixes are a smart match for a whisky aperitif and will sate the hunger while waiting for latecomers.

Each of the recipes featured can be prepared ahead and finished for service.

Sticky Toffee Puddings

Paired with Bushmills 16 Years Old

This pairing really plays up the syrupy sweetness of the whiskey with the Golden Syrup and treacle serving to amplify this quality in the Bushmills. In turn, the dried fruit, nibbed nuts and spices also echo their counterparts in the whiskey.

This makes a lot, but freeze well. Make ahead and microwave to serve topped with caramel sauce and clotted cream.


  • 60g butter

  • 425g brown sugar

  • 5 eggs

  • 50g Golden Syrup

  • 50g black treacle

  • 15ml vanilla essence

  • 500g flour

  • 5g cinnamon

  • 5g nutmeg

  • 75g nibbed almonds

  • 250g black raisins

  • 250g sultanas soaked in 750ml hot water and 35g baking soda for 10 minutes

1. Butter and flour two 12 hole muffin trays. Cream butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl beat the eggs, Golden Syrup, treacle and vanilla until combined. Add to the butter mixture.
3. In a food processor, blitz the raisins and sultanas in their soaking water with the cinnamon and nutmeg and stir into the mixture. Fold in sieved flour. Finally fold in the nibbed almonds and spoon into prepared muffin tins. Bake at 180C for 15 minutes, checking after 10. Puddings are ready when a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the middle.

Cheese, almond and mushroom filo

Paired with Redbreast 15 Years Old

The rich fruitiness of the whiskey acts as a jammy foil to the goats cheese, while the pot still spice plays against the almond sweetness. The earthiness of the mushrooms and shallot are echoed in the earthiness of the sherry influence and this brings the whole pairing together.

Glenfarclas 15 Years Old or Blackbull 40 Years Old would also be good matches. Cultivated button mushrooms are perfect for this recipe. There are so many rich flavours that their light nutty flavour acts as a platform for the other components of the dish. 25x25cm baking tray or similar; serves nine to 16 depending on portion size. Would serve nine as a light main alongside salads or 16 as a plated starter with a crisp clementine and red chard salad and a dressing spiked with vanilla.


  • 1 packet of filo pastry

  • 125g butter

  • 60g ground almonds

  • 220g nibbed almonds

  • 3 cloves of garlic

  • 3 shallots

  • 700g button mushrooms

  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked

  • 200g crumbled goats cheese such as Ardsallagh

  • 200g grated smoked cheese such as oak smoked Gubbeen

  • oil

  • salt and pepper

1. Blitz mushrooms in food processor. Do not over process.
2. Mince shallot and garlic. In a pan large enough to hold the mushrooms, sauté both shallots and garlic in the oil for about a minute and a half. 3. Add mushrooms and turn heat up high, stirring frequently to evaporate as much water as possible. This may take up to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and let cool. Mix nibbed almonds, thyme and the two cheeses into the mushroom mix.
4. Trim filo pastry to size of pan. Melt butter and brush each sheet of pastry with butter, then sprinkle with ground almonds. Repeat with six more sheets. Top with half the mushroom mix then seven more sheets brushed with butter and almonds, the rest of the mushroom mix and then seven more sheets with butter and almond.
5. Slice across with a sharp knife into desired number of rows (3x3 or 4x4) then bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes. You can now serve, or cool in the pan.


  • 500ml port

  • 100ml sherry vinegar

  • 200g sugar

Place all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat and simmer until reduced by half. Cool and decant into a squeezy bottle to drizzle over the filo.

Venison carpaccio, beetroot three ways

Paired with Glenfiddich 18 Years Old

The strength of the game’s umami bite plays against the dried fruit notes of the whisky. The assertive toasted oak and underlying spice of the 18 Years Old hold their own against the robust flavours of the venison and the smoked sea salt brings out the salted caramel tones in the whisky.


  • 1kg venison loin

  • salt

  • oil


  • smoked sea salt

  • cubes of roasted golden beetroot

  • beetroot syrup

  • dressed beetroot leaves

1. For the beetroot syrup follow the port reduction directions above, but substitute 400ml beetroot juice, 200ml apple juice for the port and vinegar.
2. Preheat a heavy pan. Remove all the fat and sinew from the venison, season well with salt, and brush with olive oil. Place on the hot pan and sear and brown all over for a couple of minutes. Take out of the pan and cool for 10 minutes then wrap tightly in clingfilm and freeze for 90 minutes.
3. Finely slice into rounds with a sharp knife and arrange on individual plates. Refrigerate plates covered. Remove 10 minutes prior to serving and garnish.