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Christmas dinner is so much more than just another holiday feast. It’s a chance to go all-out with flavours, and celebrate with the kinds of food and drink that, perhaps rightly so, considering the level of excess most of us go to in the holiday season, only get a chance to shine just once per year. What’s more, it’s a golden opportunity to get around a table with your nearest and dearest and celebrate the year that’s passed, and the one that lies just around the corner.
With that in mind, it really goes without saying that whisky deserves to play a fairly major role in the Christmas dining experience. Wine is all well and good, but most of us enjoy wine with our dinner all year round. Christmas dinner is a moment of extravagance, decadence, fun, and frolics… and for that reason – among many others – it’s the perfect opportunity to crack open your favourite whisky bottles and get creative with food and spirits pairings.
However, it’s not always as simple as pouring your favourite dram and tucking into your beautiful Christmas spread (although to be fair, we can’t see that kind of combo ever really being all that wrong) – as mismatching your whisky and food can lead to each component taking something away from the other, rather than heightening it and taking the whole experience to new levels of deliciousness. By using a little know-how, and by thinking a little more carefully about the character of each whisky, and how it plays on the palate with the flavours of the food you’re serving it with, you can really hit the high notes, and make your Christmas dinner a gastronomic event to remember.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the typical components of a wonderful Christmas feast, and consider what type of whisky is best suited for each one. Cheers!
OK, OK… we know that Champagne is the classic and tried-and-tested aperitif for Christmas dinner, and we know perfectly well that it does the job magnificently. If you’re a committed whisky fan, however, and want to make your special drams a key aspect of your feast, it’s never a bad idea to bring our favourite spirit front and centre from the first moments of your celebration feast.
The ideal aperitifs need to be crisp, dry, and capable of awakening and freshening the palate, preparing it for the meal ahead and whetting the appetite nicely. Aim for whiskies with a spritely personality, preferably those which haven’t been aged or barrelled for too long. Alternatively, very dry and spicy rye whiskies will also do the job very nicely here, too.
Traditionally, Christmas dinner kicks off with a delicious fish course, which highlights the delicate flavours of white fish and shellfish – the perfect light and refreshing start to a meal which is going to get pretty heavy, pretty quickly.
The classic fish appetiser for Christmas dinner revolves around smoked salmon, which – at its best – is the perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness, smokiness, and aromatic unctuous qualities… much like a great whisky in itself. Smoked salmon pairs beautifully with an array of different whiskies, but ideally, you want one which has a touch of salinity to it, preferably as a result of being distilled on a remote Scottish island, where the salt air influences everything it touches.
Prawns and other shellfish are fairly popular, too, and these also have beautifully balanced flavours that pair gorgeously with whisky. The sweetness is inherent in both salmon and shellfish calls for whiskies which have some vanilla character, which generally comes about as a result of the heavy making. Get exploring, and find your perfect match!
Inchgower 14 Year Old
Isle of Skye
Now we’re talking. Christmas dinner may be a feast of many different components, but ultimately, it comes down to the heavenly combination of rich, roasted meats, savoury sauces, and mountains of vegetables, all waiting to be devoured… preferably while wearing a colourful paper hat, and sharing funny stories of whatever you’ve all been up to since you last got together.
Turkey, duck, goose, and ham are the most traditional Christmas dinner centrepieces, with regional variations popping up all over the place. Salty, savoury meats, creamy and sweet winter veggies, and rich, glossy gravies are the order of the day, making your choice of pairing whisky pretty important to hit the right notes all at once. We’d recommend going for something a little softer and creamier than in the other courses and sticking with whiskies which have plenty of juicy character and oak flavours, or something fruity and mellow. Both bourbon and rye would also work well as rounded, sweet, and spicy numbers that work beautifully with glazed meat and vegetables.
Charleston Distilling Calhoun Straight Rye
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Linkwood 12-Year-Old Speyside
The Glenrothes 1998
Christmas dinner desserts tend to be masterful displays of sweetness, spice, fruit, and booze, meaning whisky is actually the most natural and obvious pairing to go for. Dessert is, essentially, all about decadence – it’s never exactly necessary, but it’s always joyful, and we always manage to find a little extra space in our stomachs to fit it in. The sorts of whiskies you should be going for have to reflect that decadence; deep, rich, sweet, fruity, and spiced really is an absolute must.
Generally speaking, you should aim for whiskies which have spent some serious time in rum or sherry casks, as that deeply sugary and fruity hit is going to make your dessert whisky all the more satisfying!
OK – you’ve gotten through the key courses of your Christmas dinner, and you’ve paired some gorgeous whiskies with the doubtlessly amazing food you’ve served to your loved ones. It’s now time for just one more thing: the all-important digestif whisky; that opportunity to let your stomach settle, and with which you can sink back into an armchair, watch a game of charades or two, and maybe enjoy a Christmas cigar if you’re so inclined.
Digest if whiskies are all about cleansing and reinvigorating the palate, as well as relaxation and the kind of flavours that deserve to be really savoured. We’d always recommend something deep and smoky, heavily peated, and complex for this kind of occasion. There’s something quintessentially sophisticated about the dense smokiness of a great peated scotch, and it provides the kind of lingering flavour that’s really going to satisfy the senses as you unwind in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Talisker 57 North
Port Askaig 15 Year Old Sherry Cask
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
That’s it – our guide to the ultimate whisky pairing Christmas dinner, packed full of top tips for making some truly sensational whiskies the star of the show for your holiday meal. Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year to you all!