How to Pair Whisky and Nuts

Imagine snacking on a bowl of nuts beside your evening cocktail; chances are that the bowl contains peanuts, salted or unsalted, dry-roasted or candied. But the thing is, peanuts are not actually nuts—they’re legumes, like lentils and navy beans.

So maybe it’s time to up your nut-snacking game with cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, and other types of tree nuts as partners for just the right sort of whisky.

According to numbers released by market-research companies IRI and Grand View Research, that’s exactly what a lot of us are doing, with snacking nuts accounting for $4.8 billion of the $23.05 billion global healthy snack market in 2018. And it’s a surging market as well, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 52%, bringing its value to $32.88 billion by 2025.

But wait: “healthy snacks”? Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron? Not according to Pamela Fergusson, a British Columbia-based registered dietician who holds a doctorate in nutrition. “Nuts are a good source of both protein and healthy fat,” Fergusson says. “While they are actually a fairly calorie-dense snack, they also promote satiety, so adding a handful can actually help with weight loss.”

Portion control is key, Fergusson adds, meaning that a couple of ounces are fine, but a large bowl is an indulgence probably best avoided. If you’re concerned about choosing the best nut for health, here’s some good news: Fergusson says that in terms of protein, all tree nuts are pretty much created equal.

Of course, every snack is improved by the addition of an appropriate beverage, and the more complex and intense flavors found in tree nuts can pair remarkably well with a variety of whiskies.

Rye is by far the most broadly nut-friendly of these, making it the ideal choice for a bowl of mixed nuts. If the mix is heavy on cashews, opt for a sweeter but still spicy Canadian, such as J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel rye, but if almonds are the main draw, choose something firmer, drier, and spicier, like Sazerac 18 year old.

On their own, cashews are soft, lightly sweet, and immensely popular. Sound like a whiskey you know? Yes, Irish whiskeys, such as Jameson, partner marvelously with what is arguably the most ubiquitous of the “fancy” snacking nuts, particularly so when the whiskey has a bit of age on it, and even more so if the spirit is finished in a fruity wine cask.

In contrast to the soft, almost creamy texture of a cashew, roasted almonds have a more toothsome character with their sweetness mostly confined to the finish, partnering well with a scotch malt sporting gentle notes of American oak and a light peatiness. When the nut itself is smoky, as with a smoked almond, a moderately smoky malt fares better than those with big smoke intensity—Talisker rather than Lagavulin, for instance.

For a match made in the American South, the significant natural sweetness of pecans complements almost any bourbon—whether one with wheated sweetness to cleanse the palate or a spicy full-bodied spirit that evokes an almost candied-nut character. And if you’re splurging with pricey macadamias, one of the fattiest of nuts, contrast all that richness with a rustic rye like Rittenhouse or Old Overholt, mellowed with a splash of water or soda.

Three whisky and nut pairings to try

Tyrconnell 10 year old Madeira Cask Finish + Salted Cashews
The fruity nose of this Irish whiskey sets up the sweetness of the nut, while the dryness of the finish refreshes after the salt.

Jura 10 year old + Roasted Almonds
The whisky’s light body contrasts nicely with the almond’s crunch, while its mild-to-moderate peat adds a delightful smokiness to the relationship.

Woodford Reserve + Pecans
The natural and robust sweetness of the nut and full richness of the bourbon are natural complements.

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