Are you ready for another chocolate tasting adventure? This time let’s follow our curiosity and discover how to pair whiskey, whisky, bourbon or scotch with chocolates. While I’ve covered chocolate tasting and other pairings (see list at the end), the challenge I have is that I can’t drink whiskies (due to the grain content). However, I have friends who do – from those who have a wee dram regularly and have toured distilleries around the world, to those who have very little experience. Recently we got together (virtually) to research this for you.
For your whiskey and chocolate pairing adventure, you’ll find tips on picking chocolate and whisky (plus 23 chocolate brands & 23 whiskey brands); fun facts; how to do the tasting itself; and the results on pairings from the event held with my friends.
Goals of the pairing
Why try pairing chocolate with whiskies? Because trying something new, or something familiar in a new way, is a fun adventure. You may learn something new. Maybe even discover a delightfully tasty combination! In fact, with most food pairings that is one of the goals – to discover a “mouth-gasm” or 1+1=3 (one flavor + one flavor combined = a WOW third flavor). One other fun outcome is exploring how there is no wrong answer as everyone’s palate is their own.
Pick your chocolate
Before we go too far, I am going to step on my soapbox about the cacao industry. As part of the Cacao Industry for Social Justice, I want to share some not-common knowledge. Please stay away from the mass brands owned by Nestle, Mars and Hershey – as these corporations have failed to fully address their supply chain of cacao beans from West Africa and the “exploitation of child labor” (aka modern day slavery). Additionally, buying craft chocolate (especially those at the higher price points), you help support small businesses across the globe and increase better farming practices.
My recommendation is you buy chocolate labeled “Fair Trade” at minimum. If you can find ones that are “single origin” or “single estate” even better. The higher the cacao percentage, the higher the “feel good” ingredients – the biggest being theobromine. These bars also tend to have less sugar, so you get more chocolate taste!
For the pairing, the consensus is to have one “regular” dark chocolate (60% or above), one with salt, and a third of your choosing. The top contenders for a third choice are caramel, orange (even blood orange), white, and even mint. While you can select what you want, here are options that my friends brought to our video conference meetup. Please note, not all chocolates are currently available. Small batches and seasonal bars often mean limited supply. I arranged these alphabetically, so my favorite brands don’t influence your decision.
- Alter Eco Brown Butter 70%
- Amish country truffle mixed box (unknown, but one was raspberry)
- Artisan du Chocolate, Adventures in fine cacao London, Buffalo Milk 35%
- Beyond Good Toasted Coconut (70%)
- Chuao Baconluxious Chocolate 41%
- Chuao Potato Chip Chocolate bar 41%
- Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate: Orange Bourbon Pecan 65%; Fleur de Sel; Ginger Snap Milk Chocolate
- Endangered Species Forest Mint + Dark Chocolate 72%
- Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Caramel 55%
- Ghirardelli Salted Caramel
- Godiva Blood Orange
- Lily’s (stevia sweetened) Blood Orange 70%; Creamy Milk 40%
- Lindt: Lindor white chocolate; Orange Intense; 78%; 90%
- Marou Faisurs de Chocolat (Saigon) single origin dark chocolate
- Mirzam India 65% (Notes: Spices, Sweet Lemon, Honey.)
- Moonstruck Dark Chocolate 65%
- Raaka Bourbon Cask Aged
- Ranger Espresso Chocolate Bar
- Schogetten Caramel Brownie
- Schogetten Hazelnut
- Seattle Chocolate Classic Dark 72%
- Theo Deep Sea Salt
- Trader Joe’s Pound Plus
Pick your whiskies
For this pairing, people brought what they prefer, or beverages to explore. There are whiskeys (which, with the “e”, means they’re Irish), whisky (aka Scotch, or from Scotland), bourbons, and ryes. Whiskies and scotch tend towards two types of flavor profiles – peated and non-peated. It all depends on where they were made, and the types of barrels they where they are aged. Bourbons have at least 51% corn which tend to make them sweeter. Note: I am going to refer to all of these as the generic “whiskey.”
“Whiskey is magical because it changes flavors as it mellows through to the back of your throat.”
“After taking a sip, breathe out immediately after which helps counter the burn and enhances the flavor.”
When it comes to learning about whiskey flavors, terms to understand are aroma or nose, palate or taste, and finish. Your local liquor store may be able to help you find what you may enjoy (and in your price range). Instead of buying a range of big bottles, there are great options in the “nip” size. Below is a whiskey flavor wheel, as well as the listing of brands that friends tried. To help out, I used the www.masterofmalt.com for flavor profiles. Remember – your palate is your palate and you do not have to agree with their assessment.
- Bulliet Bourbon Whisky – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Bright with orange zest, toasted oak and vanilla. Palate: Further orange notes, followed by some warming winter spices and a hint of tobacco leaf. Finish: Smooth and spicy. Finish: Long and creamy with custard and spice.
- High West Double Rye Whiskey (Utah) Creamy, dry, spicy and sweet. It’s very one dimensional and a tad astringent but it’s got a good spicy kick.
- High West Rendezvous Rye (Utah) Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: It’s all about the more savoury, herbal aromas you sometimes get from small batch US whiskey. Imagine you’ve just stripped all the bark from a young chestnut tree, and think about the scent on your hands. It’s that. With time in the glass there’s a touch of dried banana sweetness, with notes of toffee and, if you really concentrate, a dusting of cocoa. Palate: Very spicy. It has an almost Jalapeno-like level of heat in the mouth, which subsides and leaves Dandelion and Burdock and an intense note of cardamom. It’s very oily, and after a while there’s a hint of barley, cold Chamomile tea and soya. Finish: Herbal finish, trailing off with linseed oil, green oak, turmeric and black pepper. Overall: Really nowhere near as sweet as I expected it to be. It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong, but very herbal and savoury indeed.
- Hudson Baby Bourbon is the first legal pot-still whiskey to be produced in New York since prohibition. Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Robust vanilla, new oak warmth, popcorn and a lingering whiff of sugared almond. Palate: Marzipan and candied ginger, with a thick layer of caramel on top. A touch of rye spiciness develops. Finish: Chocolate peanuts, buttered corn-on-the-cob and a light glaze of honey.
- J.P. Wiser’s 18 year old blended Canadian Whisky – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Milky coffee, fresh citrus, layers of butterscotch and honey. Palate: Juicy orchard fruits come to the fore on the palate – think pear, apple and nectarine. Hints of black pepper and spicy cedar sit in the background. Finish: Slightly nutty, with more hot oak and a generous dollop of caramel.
- Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Spicy nose with caramel, charred oak and a little aniseed. Palate: Liquorice-led palate with oak and cinnamon, a touch of banana too. Finish: Roasty and toasty finish, plenty of spice and citrus too.
- Jack Daniel’s Honey – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Caramel and charred oak, a little orange blossom, manuka honey and vanilla. Palate: Thick and creamy with notes of vanilla, toasty oak, honey again, a little apricot too. Finish: Good length – rounded and rich.
- Jameson Irish Whiskey: Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: A full and floral nose leads with the smooth sweetness of marmalade and fudge before a hint of Madeira and a little cut grass note emerge. Palate: Thick and of good body with notes of orchard fruits, both fresh and cooked with a little vanilla cream. Finish: Medium-length with spice and honey.
- Knob Creek – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Quite spicy and sweet. Melted salty butter on granary toast, toasty oak and a touch of rye with caramel sweetness. Palate: Peppy and full. Notes of candy floss and nut oil, a touch of spice and dark chocolate, a little spice and charred oak. Finish: Long with a touch of dryness, nut oils and vanilla spice.
- Lismor 12 year old Scotch Malt (Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Herbaceous and grassy, with an underlying note of vanilla bean. Palate: Burnt sugar and coffee bean. A light touch of the aforementioned grassy notes.Finish: Heavy malt and barley sugar.
- Macallan 12 Double Cask Scotch Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose:Classic dried fruit territory, if less intense than the Sherry Oak expression. Aromatic butterscotch too. Palate:Creamy and honeyed with some thick-cut marmalade, cinnamon and warm pastries. Finish:Fruity with vanilla and sultana.
- Makers Mark Bourbon Whiskey – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Fruity and rich. There are lovely notes of spiced honey and mixed peels, a little malmsey, hazelnut and a touch of cut fruit with toasty oak providing a backbone. Palate: Rich and full. There are notes of rye and spice, barley malt, a little nut oil with butterscotch and vanilla. Finish: Quite sweet with butterscotch and dry oak spice.
- Oban Scotch Whisky 14 yr (Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt The nose is rich and smoky. The medicinal notes are quite evident with notes of the sea; seaweed, tarry ropes. There are notes of cut hay and wood smoke rising with a gentle estery sweetness. The palate is thick and full. Notes of citrus with smooth sweetness. The smoke wafts with notes of seaweed. The oak is quite rich with grist and cereal and malt. The finish is of good length with fruit and dry oak.
- Old Williamsburg Bourbon Whiskey Sour Mash (Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Apple chutney and buttered corn on the cob with a hint of fudge. Palate: Gingersnap biscuits and toasted rye bread, with silky caramel and apple pie. Finish: Oak char appears alongside more of those rich pastry notes.
- Powers Gold Distillers Cut Irish Whiskey Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Orange peel, fresh honey, biscuit dough, cinnamon and mixed nuts. Palate: Peach, nectarine, spiced oak, toffee and apple pie. Finish: Vanilla, melted butter on crumpets, cinnamon and white chocolate.
- Proper No. 12 Irish Whiskey – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Vanilla pod, floral barley and a touch of sandalwood. Palate: Orchard fruit and honey notes arrive first, backed up by a kick of white pepper. Finish: Drying oak heat and a drizzle of caramel.
- Redbrest 12 year old (Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Nutty, rich and oily. There are notes of dried peels, ginger, linseed and cut fruits including a touch of melon. Palate: Spicy with great body. Nuts and citrus (peel and juice) with hints of marzipan, dried fruits and a hint of Sherry. You turn it over in your mouth forever.
- Speyburn Highland 10yr old (Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: A fruity nose with hints of orange, mandarin and cooking apple. A touch of oak, peppermint and spice.Palate: A light, gentle palate with soft malt, sweet, toasty barley with licorice and dried herbs. Finish: Just a touch of smoke trails off on the finish.
- Stagg Jr. 64.5% (Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Powerful with burnt sugar and flamed orange peel. Toasted oak hides underneath. Palate: New leather, clove, red chilli and dark chocolate. A few drops of water helps to bring fruity notes to the fore. Finish: Very long and spicy. A touch of honey.
- Taconic Reserve Rye Whiskey (local NY) – NOSE: clean and crisp with notes of vanilla, butterscotch and banana. PALATE: crisp vanilla with notes of tall summer grass, caramel, honey and delicate back palate sweetness. FINISH: Warm, mildly sweet, spice notes that linger (per website)
- The Glenlivet 12: Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt Nose: Apricot, pineapple, greengages, citrus blossom and toasted teacake. Palate: Buttery and vanilla-rich, though still packing all the bright fruit notes from the nose. Finish: A soft crackle of oaky spice and malt, plus a hint of red apple juiciness.
- Widow Jane Rye Mash (Brooklyn, NY) – Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:Caramel, black pepper and waves of classic rye warmth. Hints of fresh fruit and a touch of dried earth.
- Woodford Reserve, double oaked (Tasting notes from their website: NOSE Rich notes of dark fruit, caramel, sharp honey, chocolate, marzipan and toasted oak. TASTE A full-bodied mix of vanilla, dark caramel, hazelnut, apple, fruit and spices. FINIS Long and creamy with lingering hints of honeyed apple.
Whiskey & Chocolate Pairing Mat
To start the pairing, the first thing to do is pour your beverage of choice into a glass. While the “standard” tasting glass is tulip shape, you can use whatever works for you. Whiskey, like a good red wine, is better when it has had a chance to breathe. In the pairing, it’s recommended not to have ice. However, my local experts say a touch of water or a great big ice cube in the glass, allows the flavors of the whiskey to expand.
There are two sides to the mat. One is if you want to use one whiskey and several chocolates. The other side is for multiple whiskeys and your choice of chocolates. There’s room for you to write down your notes so you remember after your thoughts, likes and pairings.
Wait 15 minutes for your whiskey to breathe. To entertain you while you wait, here are some fun facts
- Cacao is actually a fruit, growing on trees in pods. The seeds are the “beans” which are processed into chocolate.
- Puritans, Pilgrims and early Colonists drank chocolate, usually without sugar (which was too expensive).
- The first license for a chocolate & coffee house was granted to a woman in Massachusetts in 1682
- Whiskey wasn’t big with pirates, instead it was drunk by officers and the elite because of the expense. Here’s a shanty from back then:
The Captain likes whiskey
The Mate he likes rum
Us sailors like both
But we can’t get us none.
- The word “whiskey” means “water of life”
Guidelines for Whiskey and Chocolate Pairing
- Remember – this is an adventure. No “wrong” or “right” answers
- Your palate is your palate
- Allow your whiskey a few minutes to “breathe” (for the tasting, don’t use ice. While some may open up with water, let’s start neat)
- Tasting is not the same as eating. Focus & pay attention.
Use your five senses
- Look (at the labels, colors, etc.)
- Touch (texture, thickness, melting point)
- Listen (snap of the chocolate, the pour of the whiskey)
- Smell (complexity, intensity, notes)
- Taste…. (wait for it…see next step!)
Tasting Recommended sequence:
- Sip whiskey to “waken up” your taste buds;
- Next, take a small bite of chocolate & allow to melt on your tongue (fight the urge to chew or go fast);
- When the chocolate has had a chance to melt, take another sip. Pay attention to the combination as well as changes over time.
- Take a sip of water to cleanse palate between flavor pairings
Whiskey and Chocolate Pairing Recommendations
What you like is what you like. However, get a group together to try something fun & new, and they will share what they like… and what they didn’t!
Michael’s favorite combination: Taconic Distillery Founders Rye whiskey paired with Marou Lam Dong (from Saigon) with 74% dark chocolate. I added my own salt and it made it even better. I also tried Woodford Reserve Double Oaked paired with Mirzam 52% dark Milk chocolate with Ragag; Jameson Select Reserve whiskey paired with Beyond Good Toasted Coconut 70% dark chocolate and again added my own salt; and Bulleit Bourbon paired with Dick Taylor Orange Bourbon Pecan.
Link says the combination of a brownie with Bulleit was “life changing.” He also had Trader Joe’s Pound Plus with Bulleit and exclaimed “it’s like a party in my mouth!”
Melissa says she could have chocolate, cheese and whiskey as a dinner. Her favorite pairing was Balvenie and Moonstruck Dark Chocolate.
Fran, not much of a whiskey drinker, greatly enjoyed the pairing of Jim Beam with the Endangered Species Forest Mint & Dark Chocolate.
Bobby, who is creating a cookbook based on family stories, creates quite a few flavor combinations. He likes the Raak Bourbon Cask chocolate with any of the whiskeys he tried, including Jack Daniels. Two thumbs up for Jameson Irish Whiskey and white chocolate.
However, when it comes to the honey version of Jack, he says pairing with chocolate is “too sweet.”
Eileen likes Irish whiskey, but tried a scotch this time. She paired Macallan 12 with Chuao Baconluxious. While the saltiness of the bacon with the chocolate was good, in general she doesn’t think scotch went with any of the other chocolates.
Kait enjoys bourbon, so she had a few options. Her favorites are Knob Creek, Woodford and Widow Jane. They tasted pretty WOW with Lily’s dark chocolate. The Woodford with Salted Caramel chocolate was the closest to a “mouth-gasm” of all the combos. She had a Knob Creek Maple Bourbon, which she didn’t like. She also thought her Lily’s Blood Orange dark chocolate was too bitter. However, paired together they are “palatable.” As she phrased it “This one is gross + this one is gross too = together they are okay.”
Topaz isn’t a fan of coffee flavored chocolate, but when paired with her Hudson Baby Bourbon she said the chocolate made it “super smokey, almost a tobacco flavor.”
Pata, who also was exploring whiskies as a novice, said her 1+1+3 was with Knob Creek and the Lindt Blood Orange chocolate. However, she definitely recommends not getting any chocolate with a flower ingredient. Her bar with Lavender is a definite NO.
And the not so good
Eliza had Powers Irish Whiskey and a box of chocolates from Amish country. She discovered that the raspberry chocolate with the whiskey is too much. “It’s so tangy, then the whiskey made it quickly go sour – like shooting through the moon.”
Becky, who is not a whiskey drinker but hoped chocolate could change that, still enjoyed the adventure. “In the end, I am definitely not a Whiskey lover. It didn’t matter which one I tried or with what chocolate. I was hoping to have that orgasmic explosion but alas it just didn’t get me over the edge! Lol! It was a great night and a new adventure conquered so it was well worth the time.”
In the end, isn’t that what this is all about? Trying something new, or something familiar in a new way. And having fun too!