There are strong taste synergies to be explored between beer and whisky, as a distilled unhopped beer will give you a whisky. So it’s little surprise that beer and whisky matching is currently increasing in popularity in craft beer circles. Matching or pairing is where you choose a whisky that can be sipped alternately with a beer. It’s not shoot the whisky and chase it with the beer. That’s for a different time and place…
When matching beer to whisky there aren’t too many rules and personal preferences will win out in the end. There is however one recurring challenge with beer and whisky matching and that is choosing a whisky to pair with hop forward styles like the modern IPA. The amped up hops can often make it difficult to find a balanced whisky match. Moreover, as craft brewery supremo and ginger puss, Richard Emerson, recently noted at a tasting “hops and peat don’t match”.
For hoppy beers then smoky whiskies are out and a light and fruity whiskies are called for. Try Glen Grant, a delicate and fragrant single malt to lift hop flavour and aroma. Glen Grant has the added advantage that you can get it from Liquorland using your Flybuys points!
Bourbon’s vanilla and caramel notes are also good to balance the bitterness in pilsners and pale ales. Try Makers Mark which has sweet wheat flavours and lifted aromatics.
If it’s a full-blown malty IPA with sweet marmalade malt flavours then a whisky with sherry notes may be in order. I recently matched that IPA hero, Epic Armageddon, with Black Bottle – a quality blended scotch with a rich, and fruity (toffee apple even) flavour. The beer was sweet with a bitter hop finish and the whisky was sweet with a slightly fiery finish. A good match.
Another complementary match worth exploring is rye beer and rye whiskey. Rye is the older, original style of American whiskey with a distinctive spicy, woody, rye flavour. Wild Turkey Straight Rye is a widely available entry level and it matches well with Riot Girrl Rye IPA from Beer Baroness and Harrington’s Red IPA. The intensity level of these beers goes well with the dry, spicy and earthy flavour of the whiskey.
Malty ambers, reds and scotch ales contain melanoidin – caramelly sugars that are produced during the roasting of malts that give amber and reddish ales their colour. These sugars are also present in many non-smoky Scotch, Irish and Japanese whiskies. So if you like the caramel flavour of these styles of beer, try Redbreast Single Pot Irish whiskey.
Dark and roasty stouts and porters are often successfully matched with smoky Islay whiskies like Bowmore, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Make sure the beer has a robust malt character or there is a risk of the ‘ashtray effect’ from the powerful smokiness of these whiskies.
I recently matched the highly complex, roasty and bitter Courage Imperial Stout (10% abv) with Sam Cougar Black bourbon. I was impressed by how the sweetness from the whiskey contrasted with the intense bitterness of the beer, but the finish of both seemed on a par. I also matched this beer to Johnnie Walker Black label, the highly regarded premium blended scotch with a peaty nose and smoky palate. (Next stop Islay.) Again, the whisky lightened up the malt intensity of the beer and there was a complementary smoky/burnt finish.
To spice things up a bit you can match your beer to a sipping whisky cocktail. The Rusty Nail is a classic in this regard. A mix of whisky and Drambuie, the proportion of Drambuie and choice of whisky depend on your preference and the beer you’re matching it with. More sweetness for hoppy beers, or use a smoky whisky if you’ve a dark beer.
Whisky and beer have been drunk together – either on the side or added in – for a very long time. The craft beer revolution has opened up a new range of interesting options for beer and whisky matching. Feel free to do some research.