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A Perfect Union of Whiskey Pairings: Harmonising Irish Whiskey With Great Irish Food – By Derek King

In collaboration with Andy McFadden from Glovers Alley, Derek King brings us a selection of great food and whiskey pairings

The huge diversity we are now seeing in Irish whiskey makes pairing a dram or two with certain foods much more accessible. While hosting tasting events I am regularly asked about the topic and admittedly for a very long time I would have considered it absolute madness to try find any food types that complement a liquid that’s upwards of 40% ABV or vice versa – I would have typically left this to the wine people of the world.

At this point it is worth noting that when it comes to food I am far from an expert, so I have recruited the help of Mr. Andy McFadden for this one. Andy is head chef at the stunning Michelin-starred Glovers Alley in Stephens Green. We agreed to spend some time looking at great whiskey and local produce that sit perfectly side by side. I have certainly had worse days… watching Andy cook in the kitchen with laser focus knowing that I was to be at the receiving end with a glass in hand. After a short conversation we had decided on styles of whiskey to work with and then whittled it down to the list below. 

Andy advises me that amongst some of the main considerations include matching intensity, aligning flavour profiles, balancing sweetness, and embracing the freedom to experiment. And when he talks you either listen closely or start writing it down!

Originally from Tallaght in Dublin, chef Andy McFadden commenced his culinary journey at the age of 14. Graduating as the top student from the Tallaght Institute of Technology, he was enticed to London by renowned chef and restaurateur Shane Osborn. Serving as head chef at L’Autre Pied and Pied á Terre, Andy skilfully maintained their Michelin stars. In 2017, after a successful career in London, Andy returned home to Dublin to co-establish Glovers Alley. This venture further solidified his standing in the local culinary scene. His commitment and expertise bore fruit when Glovers Alley, under his leadership, secured its inaugural Michelin star in 2022 and retained in 2023 and 2024. I was genuinely excited to see where his thoughts went when presented with the task in hand.

Said task is a more accessible feat now as you taste your way around the Island and dive into some of the innovative styles and finishes we are tasting. With Irish whiskey we are certainly a little bit luckier than our friends in Scotland who find themselves bound by a very stringent set of rules. The one point that really separates both technical files is the fact that in Scotland they are shackled to maturing their whiskey in oak wood. Here in Ireland, the rule book dictates we must use wood ‘similar to oak.’ 

Now the American and Spanish oak safety net is being cast aside more regularly to venture into the unknown. For me there’s one brand championing the innovative tidal wave with their maturation program – Method and Madness. This micro distillery housed in the old Midleton distillery has simply taken over the experimental playground when it comes to new wood types in Irish whiskey – simply stunning whiskeys that open up to new ways of enjoying Irish whiskey… of course, pairing with delicious food is just one of them!

Now more than ever, we boast a very broad spectrum of styles: Single pot stills with big fortified wine and dark fruit character – think Redbreast PX; single malts with beautiful peat and berry sweetness in the form of Two Stacks Double barrel; and light, delicate grain whiskey with floral sweet characteristics with Clan Colla from Ahascragh Distillery in Galway.

Mastering the fundamentals of food pairing and crafting the perfect picks requires a nuanced approach to enhance both the drink and the dish, says Andy. Together we looked at five whiskeys and got into the glass to find pairings that just simply worked. There was no dish that could be too big or too small, nor was there any discrimination on sweet versus savoury. 

Here is where we landed with 6 pairings, keeping a focus on local where possible.

Powers Rye Irish Whiskey with braised short rib

The signature rye spiciness and sweet palate complements the short rib beautifully. Its light vanilla notes enhance the butter-soft meat with its big robust beefy flavour. The sheer drinkability of the beautifully sweet rye seemed to put some manners on the short rib and nothing dominated too much. I hadn’t had Powers Rye in a while – this was a pleasant reminder of just how great it is. 

Micil Madeira Island Pot Still with BBQ Lobster Tail

The smokiness on the shellfish sits particularly well with the whiskey; a really pleasant charred after-taste along with the full bodied whiskey that has the most beautiful gentle peaty backbone. Certainly more on the luxurious side but we all deserve a treat every now and again. Ex-peated quarter casks used in the Micil distillery are the contributor to its gentle turf smoke aroma. This was a sublime match! 

Bushmills Black Bush with slow cooked crisp skinned Pork Belly

Bushmills Irish Whiskey

The nutty and intense dark fruit notes of Bushmills create a classic pairing with Andy’s pork belly. The fattiness of the pork is what allows it to marry with the prominent fruity nutty nature of the Black Bush. A really super versatile blend and one of my favourites. Finding out that it harmonised so well with this dish felt like such a bonus. The pork’s crispy skin gave me a bacon fries vibe… I chose not to say this to Andy however!

Two Stacks Double Barrel Single Malt with 70% Dark Chocolate

Bitter and sweet chocolate at 70% seemed to hit the nail on the head here. The smokiness in the whiskey pushes to the front and enhances the rich nature of the chocolate. That signature deep robust character of this amazing whiskey complements the bitterness of dark chocolate, creating a delightful interplay of flavours. I am loving the Double Barrel series from the guys at Two Stacks!

Garden County Single Pot Still with Comte Cheese and Rhubarb Chutney

The spicy backbone of this pot still whiskey stands up to flavours on the aged cheese (fruity, nutty and slightly smokey), making it an ideal companion when served with the rhubarb chutney. This pot still whiskey is a stunner and provided a beautiful breakfast marmalade palate that slowly becomes fragrant. The pot still spice lingers in no hurry at all. 

Green Spot Single Pot Still with Apple Tart and vanilla ice cream

The lively stewed fruit and vanilla notes with baking spice in Green Spot hold hands with the sweet and tart flavours of apple pie, offering a dessert-like experience. Andy insists on vanilla ice cream for its luxurious creamy character. Crème anglaise (house-made in Glover’s Alley) incorporates Green Spot whiskey, which features on their dessert menu with their îles flottantes steamed meringue. Perfect finish with this one! Sweet and decadent. I didn’t realise Green Spot could get better!

 In conclusion, embarking on Irish whiskey food pairings unveils a delightful journey through the flavours and vastly different expressions of whiskey coming from our distilleries today. Whether enjoying a casual meal or hosting a tasting event, the right blend of whiskey and food promises to elevate the experience. Experimentation is key and allows even the not-so-fanatical whiskey drinker a way to push the door on the category. 

A huge thanks to Andy for his help here. It is so admirable to witness first hand his passion and pure skill in the kitchen. The most impressive part of this whole experience was how easy he made it all look.

Article by Derek King
The Whiskey Journey

Derek has worked in the traditional Irish bar scene for many years and holds a huge passion for Irish pub culture. His time has been served as a bartender, bar manager and proprietor of pubs and music venues. He has spent time working in many different countries including Australia and Canada broadening his understanding of how alcohol and bar culture differs from country to country.

Derek has gained broad whiskey knowledge through in-depth whiskey training events, whiskey tastings, masterclasses and multiple Midleton Academies. The majority of this exposure was gained during his role as Global Brand Ambassador for Powers Irish whiskey with Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard

The love for whiskey and distilling became his career focus when he was part of the start up team at Slane Distillery (owned by Brown Forman/Jack Daniels). Derek was part of the commercial and operational management of the day to day running of the visitor centre, which was located on the grounds of the iconic Slane Castle. POWERS whiskey called next… Derek took the brand by the reigns travelling as their global spokesperson telling the most historic and rich brand histories of all the whiskey stories out there. Now through the establishment of Experience Irish Whiskey, Derek is ready to spread the good word of Irish whiskey with specialised whiskey tasting experiences throughout the four corners of Ireland.

https://www.experienceirishwhiskey.ie/

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