You might have guessed that whisky goes best with fatty meats and decadent, creme-heavy desserts. The situation, however, is evolving swiftly. Vegan whisky pairings are becoming not only important but crucial as more and more individuals adopt plant-based diets for health, ethics, or environmental reasons.
The Steady Ascent of Veganism
The number of vegans in the United Kingdom increased by roughly four times between 2006 and 2016. At the same time, surveys reveal that a sizable percentage of UK individuals are cutting back on meat consumption or are seriously considering doing so. The trend is also visible in the United States, where vegan-friendly eateries and menu items are on the rise.
The Vegan Nature of Whisky
Whisky, in its traditional form, is distilled from grains such as barley, corn, rye, or wheat. The primary ingredients – water, yeast, and grain – are all plant-based. During the distillation process, these components are fermented and then distilled to produce the alcohol content.
Contrast this with some other spirits or drinks that might use animal-based agents for filtration or flavoring, whisky largely avoids these pitfalls. It’s common in the wine and beer industry, for instance, to use products like isinglass (derived from fish) or gelatin for clarification. Whisky, on the other hand, traditionally uses a charcoal filtering process, which is vegan-friendly.
The cask aging process that defines the flavors, colors, and character of whisky doesn’t employ any animal derivatives. Instead, it relies on the natural interaction between the spirit and the wooden casks. The wood infuses the liquid with its rich flavors, hues, and aromas, eliminating the need for any non-vegan additives.
However, there is something to note: while the vast majority of whiskies are vegan, certain brands might introduce honey or other non-vegan flavors in specialty varieties. While whisky as a category aligns well with veganism, it’s always a good practice for strict vegans to research or check with the brand for any specific bottling.
Whisky and Vegan Foods
While the pairing of whisky with traditional dishes is age-old, the union of whisky with vegan cuisine is a more recent phenomenon that’s gained traction with the surge in veganism. With the rise in those adopting vegan lifestyles or simply reducing their meat intake, there emerged a distinct demand for plant-based pairing options for whisky enthusiasts.
In the past, whisky events and tastings often left vegans out, with dishes dominated by gamey meats or rich dairy desserts. However, with veganism’s increase in popularity, chefs, mixologists, and whisky masters began to see an unexplored territory ripe for innovation. Why should vegans be excluded from the complex and delightful world of whisky pairings?
Vegan dishes, known for their rich flavors and diverse ingredients, offer an extensive palette for whisky pairings. Be it the smoky undertones of a roasted vegetable dish or the natural sweetness of a plant-based dessert, there’s a whisky out there that complements it perfectly. The pairing isn’t just about complementing flavors but also about contrast. The spicy, woody, or smoky notes of many whiskies can offer a delightful contrast to the freshness and earthiness of vegan dishes.
Recognizing this potential, many distilleries and restaurants started hosting vegan whisky pairing nights. They highlighted how the smoothness of a bourbon or the peaty touch of a Scotch could elevate a vegan dish. As more people attended these events, word spread, igniting interest and experimentation in households and eateries alike.
Leading restaurants in the UK and the US took note of this evolving trend. The inclusion of whisky pairings in vegan menus not only catered to a niche but also invited a broader audience to appreciate the versatility of vegan foods. The shift wasn’t just about catering to vegan diners but showcasing the adaptability and range of whisky as a spirit.
Well-Known & Interesting Pairings
Café Latte Vanilla
Imagine a vegan version of a traditional Indian dhal, complete with curry oil and crispy lentils, made with sweet potatoes and puy lentils. Andrew Dargue, the mastermind behind Vanilla Black, recommends sipping it with Ardbeg 10-Year-Old. The smokiness of the whisky works wonderfully with the dish’s creamy richness, and the cinnamon and black pepper notes complement the curry oil’s spiciness.
Terre à Terre
Featuring polenta gnocchi, smoked tomato, sweet miso, and truffled porcini filling, Philip Taylor of Terre à Terre introduces the Porcini Plumps. The oaky and gently smoky notes in Benromach Organic Speyside Single Malt Whisky complement the dish’s umami richness.
The Arthur Hooper’s Paccheri
A Sour Cherry Old Fashioned made with Auchentoshan 12-Year Old is the perfect complement to Arthur Hooper’s Paccheri with Tomato Sauce and Sun-Dried Tomato and Walnut. The nuttiness of the whisky complements the dish’s walnuts, and the cocktail’s sour cherry note softens the acidity of the tomatoes.
Vegan at Hendersons
At Hendersons, you may sample tapas with two different kinds of whisky. Whiskies like the Highland Harvest Organic Single Malt and the Benromach Organic Speyside Single Malt go well with plant-based meals like Chargrilled Broccoli, Roasted Portobello Mushrooms, and Vegan Chilli con Carne. The smokier Benromach goes well with hearty foods like the Stuffed Courgette, while the fruitier scents of Highland Harvest go well with the raw ingredients.
What Visitors Think of the W London
To accompany his delicious Caramel-braised Tofu, Chef Ravinder Bhogal serves a cocktail called Scottish Karma, which features Dewar’s 12 Year Old. Whisky goes swimmingly with the spice heat, offsetting the sugariness of the meal.
Tredwells’ Warm peanut butter custard and Old Fashioned with Oban 14-Year-Old is a popular dessert option. The warm, cozy, and pleasant combination of the smokey cocktail and the sweet custard is undeniable.
Whisky and the Untapped Potential of Renewable Energy
Finding the sweet spot between vegan fare and whisky requires paying attention to the subtleties of both ingredients. The aforementioned combinations are just the beginning of the many ways in which whisky can enhance the flavor of vegan fare to new heights of culinary excellence.
As you explore this dynamic realm, keep in mind that the best pairings come from trying new things and learning the nuances of both the food and the drink. Vegan and whisky pairings are out there, and you can find them whether you’re planning a dinner party or just treating yourself to a sampling.