The definitive food and whisky pairing cheat sheet

Whether you're looking for the perfect dessert or a spirit that pairs with seafood, whisky expert Cameron Ewen has the answers…

What’s your perfect mid-scotch snack? Do you lean into the smoky flavours with some charred meat or mackerel? Or are you more of a sweet-toothed sipper; and prefer to match the lighter, brighter notes of your chosen spirit with some chocolate, or dried fruits?

It’s a tricky business. Because, while some foods will unlock deeper, richer flavours in your favourite whisky, others will mute those notes and aromas already swirling around in your dram. That’s why, to keep your next tasting on the straight-and-narrow, we’ve asked Cameron Ewen, Whisky Ambassador of The Balmoral’s SCOTCH bar, for his finest seafood, dessert and cheese pairing options…

Pairing #1: Scottish Oysters & Bowmore 18 Year Old

Scotland’s waters are perfect for cultivating some of the world’s best oysters. Whether from the West Coast or the North East, the quality is unwavering and the flavour profile is greatly influenced by the environment in which they are grown.

I would recommend West Coast oysters, such as those from Loch Fyne for this paring. They are renowned for their quality and subtle sweetness and they pair excellently with a Bowmore 18 Year Old, a bright, mid-level smoked whisky from the Hebridean Island of Islay.

The distillery produces a fantastically tropical whisky. And, after being aged in a combination of American and European oak casks for 18 years, the fruity characteristics of the whisky compliment the salty profile of the oyster. For an extra treat, a couple of drops of the whisky in the half shell gives a truly memorable tasting experience.

Pairing #2: Charcoal Roasted Scallops & Inchgower 14 Year Old

Hand-dived scallops from the Northern Island of Orkney are slow-growing due to the cold water that surrounds the islands. This allows them to grow larger than if they were in more temperate waters, which in turn makes the flesh sweeter and meatier.

To pair with these beautifully caramelised scallops, I have selected a coastal Speyside whisky from the Inchgower Distillery. Their 14 year old is soft and light with a coastal saltiness from the maturation warehouses proximity to the coast. This allows the casks to interact with the environment and take on a slightly salty character.

Pairing #3: Heritage Tomato Salad & Compass Box Hedonism.

Tomatoes picked at the height of their growing season can have such a diverse range of flavours — from green grassy notes to a slight ‘picante’ spice. I’ve selected a salad of tomatoes with high-quality Scottish rapeseed oil to pair with a fantastic grain whisky from the blenders at Compass Box.

The brand’s ‘Hedonism’ expression is perfect to pair with such a dish and offers brilliant vanilla and fresh citrus notes. Perfect to compliment such a simple, yet elegant dish.

Pairing #4: Alpine Cheese & The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old

Comté and gruyère are both renowned for their slightly nutty flavour — a direct result of what the cows that supply the milk have eaten whilst grazing on the vast, open slopes of the Alps.

This style of cheese pairs beautifully with a rich and oily sherry cask matured whisky. And, when I think of sherry cask matured scotch, I’m instantly drawn to The Macallan. A distillery that takes such care over their casks, they nurture the oak from acorn to ensure nothing but the highest quality is used to mature their spirit.

The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old has notes of oily walnuts, dark chocolate and fiery ginger — and pairs beautifully with the creamy and nutty flavours of this cheese.

 Pairing #5: Scottish ‘Cranachan' & Glenfiddich Experimental Series IPA Cask Finish

‘Cranachan’ is a traditional Scottish dessert of wild raspberries, toasted oats and whipped cream, all bound together with heather honey and doused in whisky liqueur.

This combination works perfectly with Glenfiddich Experimental Series IPA Cask Finish whisky, a character-led malt finished in ex-IPA beer casks. The whisky offers beautiful sweet notes of candied orange, butterscotch and sweet brioche, and perfectly complements such a creamy, fruity dessert.

Pairing #6: Smoked Salmon Mousse & Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old high-ball

The saying ‘Those that grow together; go together‘, has never been truer than with this pairing. In the north-east of Scotland, you’ll find the River Spey; world-famous for its salmon fishing and the quality of the fish coming out of the area.

And, overlooking the river, sits The Macallan distillery. This pairing is slightly less traditional and utilises whisky in a long drink — a highball — to complement the texture of the mousse.

Scottish smoked salmon bound with herbs and turned into a mousse will pair excellently with The Macallan 12 year old, served over lots of ice, topped with soda and garnished with a large lemon peel. This citrus will cut through the rich smoke of the salmon whilst the soda adding effervescence compliments the texture of the dish.

Want more whisky tips? Here’s why the water you add to your whisky matters — and the best to buy…

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