How to Pair Whisky and Dried Fruit

We all like a bit of a nosh with our drinks, right? And while we know that maybe it’s not best for us, when searching for such a snack we usually reach for something a bit salty, oily, or fatty.

But what if our nibble was instead something healthy? What if it were dried fruits?

“They’re nutritionally great,” says Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist Ginger Hultin, owner of Champagne Nutrition. “Dried fruit offers fiber, potassium, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and B-vitamins.”

The key to such healthy snacking, says Hultin, is to keep an eye on how much you’re consuming. “Dried fruit is more condensed in calories, so a half-cup of dried fruit is equal to a cup of fresh fruit,” she adds. (The recommended serving of fruit is 1½ cups a day for women and two cups for men, and dried fruit does count toward those amounts, she notes.) Something else to watch for is fruit coated in unnecessary dry or liquid sugar, Hultin says, adding that “dehydrated fruit is sweet and flavorful on its own.” 

There is as much as 50% of your daily vitamin A requirement in a half-cup of dried apricots or ample calcium and iron in raisins, according to Hultin. The good news doesn’t stop with the packed nutrients in various dried fruits: My tasting experiments revealed that many pair deliciously with whisky.

To provide focus to my tastings, I concentrated on the dried fruits people are most likely to eat on their own rather than use in cooking. While a shortcut to pairing is to focus on similar flavor notes in the whisky—the apricot in Oban Little Bay for instance, or the pineapple in Knob Creek Cask Strength rye—I learned that doing so risks missing out on more complex and often, more extraordinary partnerships.

Two common varieties of raisins—Thompson and sultana—are actually derived from the same variety of grape, with Thompsons dried longer, making them darker and more intensely “raisiny” in flavor. For lighter sultanas, I liked a chocolaty single malt like Dalmore 12 year old to evoke the appeal of chocolate-covered raisins, while I noticed Thompsons worked better with a spicy straight rye, calling to mind traditional fruit-and-spice Christmas cake.

Dates are sweeter than sultanas, with more expensive medjools even sweeter than those labeled generically as “dates,” usually of the deglet noor variety. With either, the richness of a big-bodied bourbon like Woodford Reserve creates a wondrous pairing, opting for the even bigger Double Oaked version with medjools. And speaking of sweetness, it doesn’t get much sweeter than dried pineapple, which led me to create a contrasting partnership with a rye-heavy, but still soft and smooth Canadian whisky.

Dried apricots are relatively easy to pair, since their flavor is an oft-cited characteristic in all sorts of whiskies. Rather than doubling down on the fruitiness, however, I achieved greater satisfaction by adding complexity with the peatiness of an island malt, a technique that worked best with lighter, more herbal, but still robustly smoky examples.

Finally, thanks to their nuanced and generally unobtrusive character, I discovered figs are the most broadly whisky-friendly of all dried fruits. For regular pale figs, I enjoyed a softly fruity whisky that not only drew out their flavors, but also benefited from the light, fruity sweetness of the figs. For the darker, bolder Mission variety, I found deliciousness in a wheated bourbon partner.

Sun-dried Sweetness

Dried Apricots and Lagavulin 8 year old
The herbal notes of the whisky accent the flavors of the fruit, while the smoke ties it all together beautifully.

Dried Figs and Miyagikyo single malt
The gentle flavors of the fruit are coaxed forward by the soft stone-fruit notes in the whisky.

Dried Pineapple and J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye
The spiciness of rye softened by three types of oak serves to tame the concentrated sweetness of the fruit and release its full flavor.

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