Pairing Whiskey With Easter Dinner

Happy Easter! Unlike, say, Thanksgiving, when it’s a safe bet you’ll find a turkey in every oven, the Easter table can be a surprising place. For some, Easter means ham, while others opt for lamb. Still others see the holiday as a chance to lighten up in honor of spring, saving the central spot in their spread for a side of salmon.

No matter what you’re planning to enjoy this weekend, there’s a whiskey to match. Here are some suggestions for great whiskey pairings for classic Easter dishes.

With Ham

Our bourbon editor (and longtime contributor) Steve Coomes isn’t just an expert on whiskey; he’s also a ham man, through and through. He’s the author of Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt, and Smoke, and right now he’s hard at work on another book on the subject. So who better to help you choose a great whiskey to pair with ham?

Country Ham And Bourbon

Country ham and bourbon – a pairing made in Kentucky heaven (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

“I like a bit of spice in the whiskey that I choose to pair with ham,” says Steve, “because it cleanses the palate and cuts through the fat coating left behind by a bit of country ham. That said, there’s a lot of salt in cured ham, so it’s nice to have a sweetness to offset that. I’ve found that whiskeys that come from toasted barrels really bring the vanillin and citrus components, even some chocolate components, which offset the salt.”

Steve says there’s something about Michter’s spirits (bourbon as well as rye) that pair exceptionally well with ham and other foods, although he encourages anybody to try a couple of pairings to find what works for them.

With Lamb

Growing up, we were a lamb family. Easter meant roasted leg of lamb, complete with a dollop of bright green mint jelly. That combination of rich, slightly gamey meat and sweet, herbaceous jelly is echoed in the flavor of many rye whiskeys. Rye grain has perhaps the broadest range of flavors of any whiskey grain, from funky and earthy to minty and herbaceous, plus an appealing sweetness from those new charred oak casks.

Try a big, spicy rye like Sazerac Rye alongside braised lamb, which is bold enough to stand up to neat spirits with ease. If you’re having a roasted leg of lamb, look for something that showcases the herbal side of rye, like Lock Stock & Barrel.

With Salmon

Although slightly less traditional than lamb or ham, salmon also makes a frequent appearance at Easter dinner, at least in my Northwest corner of the world. If you’re having a pescatarian meal, peated Scotch pairs beautifully with seafood. With a simple roasted salmon, try something on the lighter, crisper side, like Caol Ila 12-year-old.

If you’re opting for something like a brown sugar glaze, look for something with a bit more malt backbone, like Bowmore. Both also make great highballs, which can keep the high alcohol from overpowering the relatively delicate fish.

About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.

  • Margaret, I wish you had been pouring at the Easter dinner at which I was a guest last night. Plenty of decent champagne and white wine, but the night cried for whiskey!