The Rising Sun and the Amber Tide: Pairing Whisky with Sushi

Typically, a whisky connoisseur is a man of habits. He sits with a glass of Jim Bean after a heartwarming dinner, sharing a weekend round with equally discerning peers – or relishing a solitary moment with his single-malt and bedroom slippers.

Fortunately, Eastern customs are turning this picture upside down.

Where the meal revolves around community, and decorum is right up there on the top shelf with a 1955 bottle of Glenfiddich’s finest, the host can’t afford to pay homage to a single guest’s preference. A modern table in Japan has everything from wine (the norm for food-liquor pairings) to whisky and beer.

And the trend is gradually spreading – a meal today is much more than a matter of routine. With diners constantly looking for new and exciting inspirations for their next night out, the sushi-whisky duo is quickly crossing culinary borders.

At first glance, the mildness of seafood may seem too subtle to contend with a well-rounded scotch. But sushi is more than just raw fish. A mix of sour vinegary rice, the soy recalling a sharp malt, the nori’s earthiness and a warm intensity from wasabi, this Japanese delicacy is mirrored in the layers of a good brew. The Nikka Coffee Grain, for example, is a Japanese favorite – a light, fruity alternative to the peatiness of Western blends that pairs well with the delicate shades of sushi.

The flavors don’t just touch a common base – they converge and complement each other for an exquisite balance. Sushi adds a dash of umami – a meaty and intensely moreish hint – elevating the whisky’s bitter warmth and sweetness. The palate is enfolded in a volley of unexpected flavors – the boldness inherent in Asian cuisine a perfect match for a robust blend. Glenrothes’ 12 Years (bottled in 1990) packs a punch when it comes to taste – woody and spicy (almost anise-like), it’s the perfect example.

A more readily available, but equally powerful, option is Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label – its complex and layered sweetness recalls hazelnuts, honey, and dark chocolate, contrasted by a hint of pepper. A perfect salt-sugar balance when enjoyed with fresh tuna.

When you think about it, the natural salt in salmon or eel, or miso’s touch of brine almost consciously reflects its distilled partner. And the pundits are taking note – Amami’s Whisky Night in Brooklyn and the 5-course experience at Moshi Moshi, San Francisco are just two of the latest events that blend Japanese food with whisky.

A Japanese spin on the tapas bar, San Francisco’s Nihon offers unique blends – jalapeno and miso for the tongue, Nigiri with a Suntory 12 Years for the soul.