Whiskey’s New Frontier is Food Pairing 

Posted 3 weeks ago in Food & Drink Features

At Dublin’s top restaurants, a flight of wines to accompany a tasting menu is de rigueur. Are you even dining if you’re not sipping a flight of wines with each dish? It’s an unwritten rule. You know, the whole “things that grow together go together” spiel.

One thing that has grown at the same speed and at the same time as Dublin’s fermenting food scene is our whiskey. Once confined to solitary sipping, whiskey is now crashing the dinner party, ready to mingle with the gourmet and the gourmands themselves. This is both fun to try at home and offers a fresh perspective on the sometimes stuffy art of pairing.

The essence of whiskey is an Irish spirit that has range. Think of a combo between Freddie Mercury and Maria Carey and you won’t be too far wrong in gauging just how much range this juice has. The same distillate can grow to have delicate notes of fruit to bold undertones of smoke. It literally mirrors the complexity of haute cuisine. Like a seasoned sommelier, aficionados are discovering the subtle alchemy of pairing whiskey with food.

Just as wines are selected based on their vibes, the nuanced flavours of whiskey are set to be celebrated alongside carefully curated companions at the Roe & Co x Bech Bailey Collaboration Event. The event, which had multiple sittings over two nights, sold out in a matter of minutes, surprising even the curator, Ali Dunworth. Whiskey lovers get hungry too, apparently.  This next wave of whiskey will be all about integrating it into experiences like these. Whiskey is as wild as the Irish weather, and it’s about time we let it loose on the white table-clothed dinner tables.

Of course, this journey is not without its skeptics. Historically, whiskey stood alone, unaccompanied, proud, and toxically manly. The little spirit that could has gone on to grow into a spectrum of bright no one could have imagined in 2011. The new wave of connoisseurs brought in by this revival turned renaissance are now comfy enough to properly challenge tradition. Through experimentation and exploration, they are uncovering the perfect balance where neither spirit nor dish eclipses the other, but rather, they intertwine to elevate the experience.

Whiskey is not alone in what I’m calling this ‘wine-ification’ revolution. Across the globe, brave-new-worlders like saké and cider, are joining pairing rotation. At the forefront of this movement are young fine-dining establishments with millennial sommeliers who are empowered to take risks and make funkier pairings.  People like Sinead McCarthy at Hawksmoor or Majken Bech Bailey, formerly the head sommelier of AIMSIR and now one half of the powerhouse that is Bech-Bailey.

First, Majken experimented with the nuanced flavours of the evolving low-and-no-alcohol world for her pop-ups. The buzz surrounding the non-alc pairings was that they were ‘actually good’, which is a high compliment from an Irish crowd. Keelan Higgs and his team from Variety Jones also had fun pairing their wares with whiskey and whiskey-based cocktails in March. The event was a sell-out success, and many straight whiskey enthusiasts were bowled over by how the food enhanced their experience of both the new Solera Whiskey from Roe & Co and the food itself.

Irish whiskey is emerging as a versatile dinner companion with distinctive charm. As the summer approaches, keep an eye out for more whiskey and food experiences; I reckon this is just the start of something new and beautiful on the Dublin stage.  We are watching the marriage of whiskey, and food transcend tradition in real time. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Words: Shamim De Brún


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