‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to spread the holiday cheer than with a Christmas dinner that waltzes on your taste buds like a symphony of flavours? Forget the traditional pairings, because this year, we’re spicing things up with whisky!
Grab your tumbler, put on your favourite festive sweater, and let’s make the best whisky-based Christmas dinner ever.
The Perfect Match: Basic Rules for Food Pairing
Let’s start with the most important truth: there’s no whisky police stopping you from enjoying it your way. So, feel free to revel in your (peculiar) pairings without any shame here. But, if you want to maximize the flavours of both the whisky and the accompanying food, there are certain golden ‘rules’ that can always come in handy.
In general, you want to consider the whisky’s style rather than its category.
- A peated whisky goes well with a dish that has citrus notes. The zest will bring to the front the smoky saltiness of the peat.
- A sweeter whisky (most commonly sherry-casked whiskies) is perfect with spicy food, as it will bring some balance to the flavours.
- The delicate taste of seafood will pair well with lighter whisky, while full-bodied expressions are better paired with rich-flavoured meals.
Now that the rules of the game are out, keep reading for some recipe suggestions with whiskies.
Whisky & Aperitif: A Prelude to Perfection
Champagne may be the classic aperitif for Christmas dinner. But we want to spice things up here, remember? That’s why we want to suggest some whiskies that you can serve with your appetizers.
But how to choose the right whisky?
The ideal aperitifs need to be crisp, and capable of awakening the palate, preparing it for the meal ahead. For this reason, aim for whiskies with a spritely personality, preferably those which haven’t been aged or barrelled for too long.
Indeed, you’re not looking for a peaty monster, but a light whisky that cleanses the palate without overwhelming your taste buds.
A Lowlands single malt might work just fine for this purpose.
Lowland: Glenkinchie 12
This single malt has some vanilla notes, followed by floral and herbal notes as the flavour develops. It will help you to freshen up your palate.
Daftmill 2010 Summer Release
Aged for at least 10 years in ex-bourbon casks, this whisky keeps some fresh notes of lemons, ananas and mangos. An elegant whisky for your elegant dinner!
If you also have some appetizers…
The quintessential appetizer for Christmas dinner is often smoked salmon, which, at its peak, embodies the ideal harmony of sweetness and saltiness, smokiness, and aromatic richness – much like a superb whisky in its own right! Smoked salmon effortlessly complements a variety of whiskies, but the ideal pairing involves one with a hint of salinity.
Try paring your smoked salmon with a Talisker 11 Special Release 2022 Single Malt Scotch Whisky. The smoky notes melt gently with a tide of spicy sweetness in this whisky to create a salty character.
Prawns and other shellfish are also quite popular as appetizers. enjoy popularity. Their inherent sweetness calls for whiskies with a touch of vanilla typically achieved through a robust maturation process.
Try pairing your prawns with a dram of Old Pulteney 15 Years Old. Matured for 15 years, this single malt perfectly balances two different sides: the lighter coastal note, with some rich sweet notes.
The Main Act: Whisky-Infused Christmas Delights
The main event is all about those full-bodied flavours. Smoked meat and beef work perfectly, balancing the earthy, rich taste with smooth whisky notes. It depends on the cut of your meat.
For instance, a leaner steak pairs well with a Highland Park 18-year-old. Meanwhile, heavily marbled cuts like Wagyu would pair better with a more robust whisky like a Bunnahabhain 12 Year.
Pro Tip: Whisky Marinade
Did you know that you can marinate your steak with a flavorful whisky-based sauce? We would suggest using Jack Daniels: you could never go wrong with a classic like that for your recipe!
For your whisky marinade you will need:
¼ cup whiskey
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup finely chopped green onion
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
ground black pepper to taste
All you have to do is stir together the ingredients and use the sauce to marinate your beef, chicken, or pork overnight in the refrigerator. (If using with shrimp or scallops, marinate 1 hour!)
Heavily sherried and full-bodied whiskies are great with meats such as venison or elk, as well as a range of root vegetables. This category is also ideal for haggis pairing.
You can try Auchentoshan Three Wood with thinly sliced beef steak and mushrooms. The orangy and dark chocolate notes of this whisky will balance the fat of your steak.
If you are having venison, try pairing it with an elegant whisky, such as a Glenfarclas aged 15 years. This single malt whisky carries glorious tones of dried fruit and smoke in every drop. Its slightly sweet taste will complement every bite of venison you take.
Dessert: Sweet Endings with a Spirited Finale
There’s no Christmas without a Christmas pudding. We would recommend it paired with a whisky aged in a sherry cask to maximise the sweet flavours of both food and dram.
This Gordon & Macphail bottling of a 45-year-old Glenlivet would be our choice. On the nose, it has that classic sherry character with hints of fruit, nuts and liquorice, while the palate brings forward rich chocolate notes. Finally, the fruit warms into an almost Christmassy winter spice that’s an ideal match for your figgy pudding.
In general, opt for whiskies that have undergone maturation in rum or sherry casks, as the richly sugary and fruity nuances will elevate the indulgence of your dessert.
If you’re a chocolate cakes and desserts enthusiast, consider pairing them with a peaty Scotch. For this delightful combination, experiment with dark chocolates alongside a dram of Ardbeg 10-Year-Old. The synergy between the whisky and chocolate, both carrying salty undertones, intensifies their respective flavours and the smokiness of the whisky. Contrarily, the chocolate’s sweetness accentuates the whisky’s lemon and lime notes.
So, there you have it: your food-paring guide for your Christmas dinner. With whisky as your sidekick, your holiday party will be the talk of the town (…or at least the talk of your family group chat).
Remember, the key to a successful whisky-infused Christmas dinner is to embrace the spirit of experimentation. Don’t be afraid to mix and match your favourite drams with various dishes! After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly… and full of whisky and cheer!
Have a nice Christmas dinner! Sláinte!