pizza and whisky header

Some time ago I found the National Day Calendar that lists all the National Days celebrated in the USA.  O my word!  It has been a fabulous source of inspiration.  There are monthly observations listed, daily celebrations and even National Week observations.  The month of March is National Peanut Month, Umbrella Month, Frozen Food Month and Celery Month.  Celery is just too healthy and probably a bit strange to pair with whisky.  So I decided to theme my month of March as “take way food and drinks”.  Yes, the other side of the spectrum.  This month I am pairing a few great drams with well known fast foods.  And first up is my personal favorite – PIZZA and whisky.

The humble pizza has been around for ages!  Various cultures produced flatbreads with toppings.  The word pizza was first documented in AD 997 in Italy and was probably a focaccia with toppings.  The modern version, that we all know and love, developed in Naples.  Tomato was added to the yeast based flat bread and the dish gained popularity.  Purists consider only two types of pizza’s – true pizzas:  the Marinara and the Margherita.  Today there are hundreds of variations all over the world, with countries adding their local specialities.  In South Africa you would find biltong (dried cured meat) on pizza. In India you will find Paneer and in Mexico toppings include chorizo, chile and jalapeño.

But would pizza pair with whisky?  Well, I did a few experiments and have come up with the suggestions to help you navigate the perfect pizza and whisky pairing.

For me, traditionally pizza goes with red wine or beer.  But pairing a pizza with whisky, elevated the flavors of both the pizza and the whisky.  Start by choosing your pizza.  Do you like the fruity Hawaiian with ham and pineapple or do you prefer the meatier pizza’s.  Are you a vegetarian that just love fresh veggies smothered under cheese?

When you have chosen your pizza, think about the whisky.  When choosing a whiskey to pair with food, it is easiest to think of the whiskey in terms of its flavour characteristics.  Is it sweet, spicy or peaty?  Is it smoky or full of flowery citrus tones?  I found that matching characteristics work best.  Below find the pairing suggestions that worked.  

Pizza and whisky – What works?

Hawaiian Pizza and Bourbon whiskey

Pizza and whisky pairing woodford reserve and Hawaiian

Hawaiian pizza’s are filled with fruity pineapple and smoky ham.  Delicious!  You need a whisky / whiskey that will work with the fruity notes.  For the most part Bourbons are known for notes of charred oak, vanilla, and a signature sweetness.  I found that Bourbon paired wonderfully with the fruity Hawaiian pizza.  The pineapple and ham pairs well with the sweeter vanilla toasted oak bourbon. Smoothness of bourbon compliments the fruity notes of the pizza.  I paired my Hawaiin pizza with a Woodford Reserve.  

Vegetarian Pizza and Blended whisky

Pizza and whisky pairing Hankey Bannister 12 yo and vegetarian pizza

Topped with tomatoes, olives green peppers, mushrooms, a vegetarian pizza is delicate and requires a softer smoother dram.  A big and bold peaty Islay whisky will easily overwhelm the delicate notes.  You want something with enough body to stand up to oodles of cheese and to cut through the creaminess.  I found the the softer blends work well for a Vegetarian pizza.  My favorite pairing was with the Hankey Bannister 12 yo.  The cheesy notes and tomato worked well with the easy drinking smooth oak and vanilla notes of the Hankey. The pizza not only had the traditional tomato base, but also fresh baby tomatoes that burst open when you bite. This paired nicely with the spices of the Hankey Bannister.  But a Ballantine’s Finest or a Famous Grouse might also do the trick.

Meat Lovers Pizza and Full Bodied whisky

Pizza and whisky pairing Jameson Cask Mates and meaty pizza

Known under various names, this pizza is topped with lots of meat.  Smoky bacon, beef, chicken, ham or hot sausage.  This pizza call for a big bold dram.  Something that will stand up to the smoky meat and cheese.  I chose the Jamesons Beer Cask.  The rich bold beer flavors worked with the cheese and meat and balanced each other out.  Other options that might work is the Ardbeg 10 yo or a smoky Highland dram.

At the end of the day, there are no rules.  Experiment and see what works for you.  Make a fun evening out of it.  Grab your favorite pizza, pour a few drams and have fun.  Once you’ve found a flavor combo that works for you, debut it at your next grown-up pizza party.

Next week I look at one of South Africa (and the world’s) favorite fast foods and I pair it with some Bourbon. Can you guess what it will be?