I recently started drinking whiskey for the same reason most other people do — because someone they knew was drinking whiskey. For the past decade, I'd stayed away from the brown stuff, because all the Crown shots from college had left a mental (not to mention liver) scar. But now I'm learning that whiskey (and its big brother, Scotch whisky) are to be enjoyed by the sip, not thrown carelessly down the throat.
With my new-found hobby came a chance to throw yet another party. What is better than putting people and alcohol together in a room and seeing what happens? I had everyone bring a favorite bottle and ended up with a wide range from bold and smoky like the Laphroaig, a single malt from the Scottish island of Islay, to Jameson, a smooth Irish whiskey often used in cocktails. We also had a Macallan 10-year, a Macallan 12-year, and a Lagavulin — all stellar Scotch whiskies.
But what sort of food do you serve at a Scotch and whiskey party? What goes well with their complex tastes and doesn't overwhelm nor embitter them? Perhaps most importantly, what won't break the bank or be too cumbersome to prepare? After digging around online, here is what I served.
Pair smoky or spicy Scotch whiskies, such as Laphroaig, with a stronger cheese like Roquefort. With sweeter Scotches like Glenmorangie, try a softer cheese such as brie. To capture variety, I served a cheese plate from Costco that included sharp cheddar, swiss, havarti, and gouda.
Whiskey is a great complement to chocolate, especially dark chocolate. The more cacao, the better. I went with dark chocolate Hershey's Kisses for an unpretentious dessert since the store didn't have the Hershey's Extra Dark squares I usually prefer.
Something tangy or tart, like apples or pears, goes well with whiskey. Try to stay away from fruits that contain too much citrus, like oranges — this will mask too much of the whiskey's flavor.
2. Pub mix
I purchased a huge container of pub mix from Costco which had a combination of Worcestershire rye chips, honey-roasted sesame chips, pretzel sticks, Oriental rice crackers, nacho bagel chips, and mustard-seasoned twisted pretzels. These offered a delightful salty choice for snacking. You can go even more lowbrow and serve Chex Mix or salted peanuts. Aside from the chocolates, this took next to no time to prepare: just open the container and pour.
1. Pork ribs
As an afterthought, I slow-roasted a rack of pork spareribs in the oven. I figured my guests needed something savory in their stomachs to soak up all the Scotch. When it comes to serving meat, simplicity works best. You don't want to overwhelm the taste buds with both a smoky whiskey and a heavily spice-rubbed meat drowned in hot barbecue sauce. I seasoned the ribs with curry, onion, and garlic powders and a little bit of brown sugar, wrapped them in foil and let them marinate. I then roasted them at 450 degrees for about an hour and let them sit in their juices for ten minutes before serving.
Other options are smoked meat and fish, which go well with smoky Scotch whiskies. Remember that whiskey is made from barley, the same ingredient used to make beer, so if you have guests that don't drink the hard stuff, have some craft beers on hand. This will allow the foods you serve to match the palate of both the whiskey and the beer drinkers. Never, ever introduce wine into a whiskey event; made from grapes, wine will clash with the food and spoil the flavor of whiskey, and you'll end up with complaints that everything — including your very expensive single malt Scotch whiskies — tastes terrible.
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Keep in mind that I held a party and not a tasting, which comes with a whole other slew of foods and rules. The only rule at my party was to try as many Scotches and whiskeys as possible and retain all food eaten. If you're more ambitious than me, you can prepare a three-course dinner using foods that pair well with whiskey. Or if you're really ambitious, you can subscribe to Whisky Magazine. Leave an issue out on your coffee table to impress your boss or father-in-law. Pour yourselves a glass (remember, the proper serving is 1.5 ounces—you don't want your boss or father-in-law sleeping over, do you?), sip without puckering, and you'll really impress your guests, especially if you're a petite gal like me.
Now before you plan a scotch and whiskey event, there's one last lesson to learn, and it involves the nature of spelling: what is the difference between "whisky" and "whiskey?" What is the difference between Scotch and whiskey? Scotch is simply whisky distilled in Scotland. All Scotches are whiskies, but not all whiskeys are Scotch. If you ever go to Scotland, order a whisky, not a Scotch. That would be like going to France and ordering French fries instead of pommes frites, or fried potatoes. And what about the "whisky" versus "whiskey?" In Scotland, Japan, and Canada, the favored spelling is "whisky" ("whiskies" for plural), and in America and Ireland, it is spelled "whiskey" (or "whiskeys"). While it may seem petty, The New York Times, which used to call it all "whiskey," received a lot of flack from scotch whisky aficionados and has now declared the proper spelling should be determined by the bottle's country of origin. So if you thought I was fickle in my spelling of that brown drink, I was just making sure I didn't tread on any American whiskey or Scottish whisky drinkers' toes. Now that you know, you are fully equipped to throw a Scotch whisky and whiskey party.