Whisk(e)y How To, Whisk(e)y Wisdom

How to Host Killer Whiskey Tastings, Part Three: Snack Pairings


In the last installment of this series, we learned about pairing whiskey with dessert. We also learned that tasting too many whiskeys in a row can burn out your guests’ nose and palate. That’s why it’s good to break up your whiskey tasting with something like a dessert. You know what else works well interspersed with whiskey? Snack foods! What finger foods pair well with whiskey? We’ll first discuss what to avoid, and then what to look for.

What to avoid: Spicy food. Think your whiskey was hot before you ate those jalapeño chips? Just wait. I’ve never had spicy food with whiskey and enjoyed it. The spice will mask any and all subtle flavor your whiskey had to offer. I usually end up setting my whiskey aside until all the spicy oils are cleared from my mouth. It generally takes a while. I always kick myself for attempting it. Repeat after me, “Whiskey and spice isn’t nice.”

What to look for: Siblings and echoes. Siblings are foods and drinks that come from the same place. As Lew Bryson says in his book Tasting Whiskey, “a people rarely develop a drink that tastes terrible with what they eat every day.” Lew speaks words of wisdom and truth. For example, Irish Dubliner cheese and Irish whiskey is a stunning combination. So when pairing a whiskey with snacks, look to the whiskey’s origin. What country is your whiskey from? What finger foods do people eat in that country? Chances are the answer to the last question will make an exceptional whiskey/snack pairing.

Echoes are elements of your food that are repeated in the whiskey. For example, smoked almonds pair beautifully with peated Islay Scotches. Thin wheat crackers echo the grain element of single malt whiskey. And buttery popcorn and Bourbon is hard to beat. What’s a main flavor in your whiskey? What snack echoes that same flavor?

Now that you know some things to look for when pairing whiskey with hors d’oeuvres (fancy snacks), try out some combinations! You’ll be well on your way to hosting killer whiskey tastings. But what if you don’t have time to do pre-game research? Don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Here’s a short list of nibbles that are consistent winners:

  • Smoked meats
  • Bread and butter
  • Mild cheeses
  • Roasted nuts
  • Crackers
  • Hard salami
  • Prosciutto
  • Smoked salmon

The above list is nowhere near exhaustive, but it’s enough for at least your first few whiskey tastings. So call some friends. Get some whiskeys. Grab some snacks. And prepare to enjoy an evening you’ll all recall with fondness for years to come.

— Zac Smith