A Match Made at the Beach: Pairing Scotch with Seafood - The Whiskey Wash

A Match Made at the Beach: Pairing Scotch with Seafood

By Margarett Waterbury / February 28, 2017

Laphroaig 10 Year OldI’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of pairing straight spirits with food (with a few notable exceptions, like chocolate). More often than not, I find that whiskey and food work at cross-purposes: the spirit’s high alcohol content deadens my tastebuds to what I’m eating, and the food masks the flavor of the whiskey.

So I was skeptical about the idea of pairing peated scotch with seafood. All the beverage-pairing experts agree: balance the weight of your drink with the weight of your food. Big, hearty steaks stand up to big, hearty red wines; light vegetable dishes are best with wit beers or pinot grigio. So wouldn’t all that smoke overpower the delicate flavors that come from the sea?

To my surprise, I’ve discovered that the answer is a resounding “no.” There’s something eminently compatible between the salty, smoky tang of coastal Scotch whiskies and the saline flavor of fish and shellfish. It’s kind of like the transformation that takes place when you wrap a piece of albacore sashimi in toasted seaweed with a slice of pickled ginger: one part fish, one part salt, one part smoke, and one part gentle heat result in something that’s much more than the sum of its parts. Here are three avenues to explore:

Oysters and Laphroaig

This is a fun one. Shuck an oyster, but in place of a squeeze of lemon or dab of mignonette, add just a drop or two of your favorite Laphroaig expression (an eyedropper isn’t a bad idea here—a little goes a long way). Slurp, savor, and repeat.

Dungeness Crab and Talisker

Steam a fresh Dungeness crab (live if you can get it). Crack it at the table, dredging the meat through warm melted butter and washing it down with a dram of Talisker 10-Yar-Old. Talisker’s thick, sooty smoke and notes of kelp and smoked fish are a perfect counterpoint to the buttery sweetness of the crab.

Teriyaki Salmon and Bruichladdich Islay Barley

A friend gifted us a bottle of Bruichladdich Islay Barley Rockside Farm a year ago, and it’s become one of my favorite whiskies in the cabinet. Unpeated and aged just six years, it’s lightly malty with a delicate maritime character, making it an excellent foil for the sweet-salty-rich flavor of teriyaki salmon.