A guide to pairing Japanese whiskey with food lets you serve with confidence. Take advantage of whiskey's crossover potential with ingenious combinations like Kikoro and crème brûlée, Japanese Harmony and vindaloo and Hibiki 21 year and bone marrow.

Don’t hesitate when pairing Japanese whiskey and food — jump right in! Japanese whiskey is highly nuanced, so you typically won’t find one bottle that covers thousands of dishes like you do with wine, but you do find some stand-out combinations you have to try at least once.

When pairing Japanese whiskey with food, serve the whiskey neat or slightly chilled. Sip the whiskey before or just after you take a bite and don’t cleanse your palate in between drinks. You want a little residual flavor from the whiskey or food to complete the pairing. If neat is a little too much for a guest’s taste, suggest a mizuwari, or a pleasantly light Japanese whiskey-based cocktail.


Rustic dishes such as pâté de campagne (country-style) and pâté de canard (duck) have layers of flavor and aroma so complex they tend to get muddled without a contrasting element to help put them in context. Pâté spices alone include an array of floral and earthen notes that, when coupled with ingredients like Cognac and garlic, get lost in the milieu of tastes — an unfortunate finish to one of the most deceptively difficult dishes to pull off with finesse.

Fruity, medium-bodied Japanese whiskeys like Oban 14 year and Yamakazi 12 year clarify the trampled wisps of mild herbs such as chervil, tarragon and thyme in by “cutting through” the flavor mélange with bright flavors and a touch of acidity.

  • The Oban 14 and Yamakazi 12 also pair fantastically with rillettes and savory mousses.

Smoked Foods

Smoked and cured foods make for delicate pairings, but not because of whiskey’s inherent boldness — because of the foods. When you taste smoked foods, smoke dominates the palate. The more pungent aromatics, such as garlic and onions, come through okay, but most secondary flavors, if present, succumb to the smoke. Most whiskeys work with smoked food, but you’ll enjoy a more rounded overall experience with peated whiskeys, such as Hakushu 12 year and Hakushu Heavily Peated.

  • Suntory’s Hakushu 12 is packed with herbaceous, grassy notes and a classic Islay-style smokiness that comes from roasting barley over a peat fire, making it a smooth companion to lightly smoked items, such as smoked salmonoysters and scallops.
  • Suntory brings an exceptional amount of peaty smokiness to the table with their 12-year Hakushu Heavily Peated. Break out this Hakushu with the boldest smoked foods you have — ribspork shoulder and charcuterie all work here.

Learn about kunsei: Japanese smoking technique.


Red meat and whiskey sound like a duo straight out of a John Wayne film. You rarely find Americanism distilled so succinctly to just two of its components. Except, of course, we’re talking about Scotch whiskey made in Japan and not Kentucky bourbon, which actually leans in the taster’s favor. The nuances of Japanese whiskey put umami on a gustatory pedestal. It brings out more beefy flavor in the meat than you taste on its own. Rich, marbled cuts like rib-eye and strip steak practically scream for a full-bodied, blended, spicy whiskey with a little smoke in the finish, such as Nikka Whiskey From the BarrelHibiki Japanese Harmony and Hibiki 21 year.

  • Nikka From the Barrel has such a light finish you can combine it with dark-meat chicken, pork or duck.
  • Hibiki Japanese Harmony, from Suntory, consists of whiskey drawn from five different casks. Those include American oak, sherry and Mizunara, which imbue it with a tease of vanilla, orange and honey
  • Hibiki 21 year, a Japanese whiskey every aficionado keeps behind his bar or on his wish list, is a rarity worthy of celebration, so pair it with exceptional cuts of meat, such real Kobe beef graded of A-4 or A-5. Try Hibiki 21 year with bone marrow for a mind-blowing experience.

Spicy Foods

Spicy, pungent foods and alcohol go together almost organically. Alcohol tempers the spiciness of spicy foods by dissolving capsaicin, which allows you to focus on the finer points of devilish dishes like vindaloo curry and Sichuan hot pot without a crippling burning sensation getting in the way. And, if you have a medium- or light-bodied blended Japanese whiskey, you’ll detect more than heat — a little vanilla from oak casks and a boisterous nose with a lot of fruit brings out flavors heat obscures.

Japanese Harmony and Japanese Harmony Master’s Select both match up well to spicy foods while highlighting latent aromas and subdued flavors. Master’s Select has a lot of sherry and vanilla in the nose and a sensational brown sugar finish you have to try with most curries.

  • White Oak Akashi Blended has a touch of nutmeg and cocoa on the palate. It also has a soft finish redolent of dried apricot and toasted oats. Complement Akashi with spicy Asian fare, such as tom yum (hot-sour Thai soup) and kua kling phat tlha lung (a curry-like beef dish from Thailand)
  • Yamakazura Blended tickles the nose with notes of wild plum and finishes creamy with moderate vanilla notes. Pair Yamakazura Blended with chicken currypaella and spicy charcuterie, like Spanish chorizo.

Sweet Preparations

Liquor and sweets is generally a culinary no man’s land, and for qualified reasons — most liquor pairs horribly with dessert. Vodka and cheesecake, anyone? How about chocolate and gin? Of course not. But Japanese whiskey is no ordinary liquor.

Think harmony when pairing sweet preparations with whiskey. Don’t try to pair off contrasting aromas and flavors. Instead, go with lush, full-bodied whiskeys aged in sherry casks and European oak.

  • Miyagikyo Single Malt from Nikka has a firm, vivacious palate. It bursts with ginger, cinnamon, allspice and chocolate and a long finish of tobacco, cardamom, stewed fruits and toasted nuts. Pair Miyagikyo Single Malt with dark chocolatebananas Foster and spiced cakes and baked goods.
  • Teeming with orange blossoms and grass in the nose and pear, apricot and vanilla on the palate, Kikori Whiskey moves from nightcap to dessert pairing seamlessly. One of the moderately priced Japanese whiskeys, Kikori matches well with pecan pie, berry savarin and crème brûlée.

Get ultimate guide to Japanese whiskey here.