The Dark Magic of Matching Food to Whisky

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The Dark Magic of Matching Food to Whisky

March Outturn 2024 Feature Article

By Franz Scheurer


Matching whisky to food is quite often done, and sometimes even more or less successfully. However, finding the right dish to go with a whisky is infinitely more difficult, but rewards with unrivalled success. 

Interestingly it relies on something very few people have: a perfect recollection of every flavour, aroma and texture they’ve ever experienced. 

Chefs know all about food; the intricacies of aroma and flavour, and some excel by getting textures right as well. However, they know little about whiskies and their complexities. The opposite applies to the whisky aficionados who know all about their drams but very little about food. 

Now I put it very simply: to get a match of food & Whisky is like: ‘1+1=3’

Now I do recall every single aroma, flavour and texture of anything I ever ate and of any whisky I’ve ever drunk. This, in combination with being a good cook, enables me to advise on what to match with what. Usually, I work together with a well-known chef and almost always, the whiskies are supplied and that is what I must work with. This really only succeeds if I work with a chef who is beyond the ego trip of a young chef and decides he/she knows better by adding this or that ingredient or garnish and therefore totally spoils the match.

An ingredient that might be pivotal to one match can totally spoil another one and it’s the little things you have to be most careful with. If I can work with a mature chef, success is guaranteed. I have worked with prominent chefs all over the world and if they follow directions the result is 1+1=3 indeed. Chefs like Neil Perry, Darren Templeman, Tetsuya, Cheong Liew and Alessandro Pavoni come immediately to mind.

Matching food and whisky is not unlike matching food and wine, but there are a few fundamental differences. Due to whisky’s high alcohol, they cope with singularly difficult flavours, like chilli or chocolate. You can achieve an acceptable match with a wine with a slightly higher sugar content to chilli heat, but you cannot match chocolate with any wine perfectly. You might get close by either overpowering the chocolate’s sweetness, e.g. a Tokay Aszú with at least 5 Puttonyos, or by contrasting it, e.g. a full-bodied Shiraz. 

Successful food/wine matches do not rely on the protein, e.g. white wine with chicken, but with the cooking method and the spicing of the protein. This becomes a lot more important with high ABV and the protein becomes largely irrelevant. What does count is the retro-nasal, lasting palate flavours that each forkful of the dish leaves on the consumer. 

There are a lot of whisky/food matching gurus out there proclaiming set rules and definite ‘no-nos’, e.g. peated whisky with dessert etc, etc. and I have so far disproven each one of them.

If you like the proof of the pudding come to one of the SMWS whisky nights where I work together with Andrew Derbidge and experience the dark magic firsthand.


This article is featured in March 2024 Outturn — bottles will be available to purchase on Friday the 1st of March at midday AEDT exclusively to members of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Not a member? Click here to learn more about the world’s most colourful whisky club.


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