Whisk(e)y How To

How to Host Killer Whiskey Tastings, Part Two: Dessert Pairings


Last week we talked about two important questions you need to answer to host a successful whiskey tasting. Who are your guests of honor?

How can you make your guests feel special?

Once you’ve answered the first question and you have your guest list, then you can start thinking about your individual guests and how to make their night magical. A crucial consideration is: Are your guests whiskey drinkers? And if so, how much experience do they have?

Keep in mind that, even among whiskey drinkers, sampling all the whiskeys back to back won’t create the best possible experience. Yes, your guests will be happy to try the whiskeys. But unless they’re hardcore whiskey enthusiast, by the third or fourth straight dram their senses will start to burn out. First their tongue goes numb to taste. Then their nose stops picking out distinct aromas. And once everything starts smelling and tasting the same, they check out mentally and lose interest. You can tell this has happened when the conversation starts diverging from whiskey and moves on to other topics.

How do you keep your guests from burning out their senses?

Break up, or spread out, the whiskeys. A good way of doing this is to do whiskey and food pairings. Today, we’re going to zero in on pairing whiskey with dessert! I’ll give you a guiding principal and then some specific pairings to try.

Here’s the principal: All whiskeys pair well with fats.

So desserts that have a high fat content – like crème brûlée, bread pudding, ice cream, custard, and shortbread – usually go with almost any whiskey. You’ll have to experiment with different combinations to see what your tongue likes best. Some combos are amazing! While others are good, but nothing to write home about. Either way, I’m sure you’ll have fun trying them out. The key is to focus on a dessert’s fat content, not so much the sugar.

Here are some specific combinations for different whiskeys:

A Highland or Speyside Scotch pairs well with bread pudding or stroopwafel.

Irish whiskey pairs well with shortbread.

Canadian whisky compliments maple flavored desserts quite nicely. What grows together goes together.

Rye whiskey goes well with pecan, sweet potato, or pumpkin pie.

Bourbon is delightful poured over ice cream, or shared with fruit pies – especially peach pie.

And now I’m going to reveal a trade secret. You can use this tip to really impress your friends and look like a whiskey expert.

All whiskey goes well with almost any chocolate.

I say “almost” any chocolate because if you get a weird flavor, like jalapeño, it probably won’t work. But if you stick to traditional chocolates you can’t go wrong. One trick to bump it up a notch is to let the chocolate slowly melt in your mouth and coat your tongue, then sip your whiskey and enjoy!

Let’s recap the important bits:

  • Be careful not to burn out your guests’ senses with too many whiskeys in a row.
  • Break up the whiskeys with food pairings.
  • When pairing whiskey with dessert, focus on high fat content.

Now get out there and host a killer whiskey tasting!

— Zac Smith