The Whisky Foundation guide to: pairing whisky and coffee


Have you ever had to suffer your way through an ill-prepared Irish coffee?

Not a classic Irish coffee that you’d get from a bartender or mixologist, but the kind of Irish coffee where a friend has thrown a splash of whisky into hot coffee?

You’ve probably had a nice meal and – rather than opting for port or Cognac – they’ve offered an Irish coffee.

You know what’s coming, but you politely say yes.

You take a sip, you’re hit with a strange combination of whisky and coffee that don’t really go together.

You close your eyes, nod and say ‘oh yeah, that hits the spot’ and then put it on the table, hoping they won’t notice when you slip to the sink and dash it down the drain.

What a waste of coffee.

What a waste of whisky.

You see, although whisky and coffee are often thought to go together well, it’s not as simple as throwing them together in a mug.

It takes more thought, more care and more deliberation than that.

And, most importantly, you should drink them together – but in separate vessels. An espresso here, a coffee there.

It’s not a cocktail, it’s a pairing.

Whisky and coffee: a match made in heaven?

We certainly think so.

But there’s more to it than that.

(Coffee and chocolate are quite similar in terms of flavour profiles. Remember the care we took over pairing whisky with chocolate? We’re going to do a similar thing here.)

Like whisky, coffee varies a great deal depending on its origin and how it has been processed. As such, it’s not as simple as saying whisky and coffee are a great match.

It’s more about this whisky goes well with this coffee.

(It’s a mammoth task, to be honest.)

So, if you’re thinking about celebrating World Coffee Day with a dram and a brew, we’ve got a few tips to start you on your way.

The Perfect Starter Whisky and Coffee Combination: Colombian coffee with a well-balanced whisky (preferably with smoky and fruity notes).

Colombian coffee is known for being well-rounded and easy to drink. You can drink it any time of day, from the moment you get up to that final, after-dinner coffee. Colombian coffees often have a slight acidity, a whack of caramel sweetness and – on occasion – nutty notes.

Match this with a well-balanced whisky that has smoky and fruity notes – that can be anything from your favourite everyday blend to the Benrinnes 18 Year (Maltman, 1997) – and you’ve got a combination that work off each other, bringing your attention to aspects of the coffee and whisky you might not have noticed before.

This is how whisky and coffee is supposed to be.

Take it to the next level: Kenyan coffee and PX-cask independent bottling

Here it is.

This is the one.

Kenyan coffee is big and bold. It’s got a characteristic savoury-sweetness that gives way to a blackcurrant fruitiness. In short, they’re incredible. (Ask your barista their favourite coffee and it’s six-to-five-and-pick-em that they’ll say Kenyan.)

That big, boldness is a perfect match for the richer, deeper and fuller flavours of a sherry-cask whisky. And then, on top of that, the fruity finish of the sherry-cask whisky matches nicely with the blackcurrant notes of the coffee.

It’s good.

It’s so, so good.

Want to find your own whisky and coffee combination?

Remember, it’s all about the basics.

First, think of the dominant flavours of the coffee and how they’ll match the dominant flavours of the coffee. This is going to be the basis of a good match.

But then, think beyond that. Think of the whisky’s finish and subtler notes and how these will match the dominant flavour of the coffee and its subtler notes.

The aim of the game is to find flavours that work off each other, drawing attention to new details. You don’t want them competing for attention.

(We’re loving the music comparisons here at WF at the moment, so here’s another for you: you want your whisky and coffee to be Simon and Garfunkel on record – harmonising and creating beautiful harmonies – not Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in real life, fighting and competing to be seen as the more talented one of the two.)




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