Kids aren’t the only ones who love all the candy at Halloween. And the perfect way to heighten the enjoyment of goodies you snag from your children’s trick-or-treat stash (or the leftovers you have from “accidentally” buying too much) is with whisky. But any old whisky and candy combo won’t do. Circus peanuts and Laphroaig? No thanks.
“A skilled combination of flavors can produce a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” says Tom Geniesse, founder and owner of Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in New York City. Every October since 2006, Geniesse and his team hold a Halloween event where they pair candy with different types of wines and spirits. With combinations like “coffee and a cigarette”—a tiny paper cup with Avión Espresso Tequila liqueur and a chocolate cigarette—it’s more than a simple tasting. It combines the twin pleasures of sweet nostalgia with flavorful spirits for a complete emotional, and palate-pleasing experience.
One of Geniesse’s favorite pairings is “The Bottlerocket:” Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon served warm with a caramel square skewered by a little plastic sword. “Bourbon is already pushing the sweetness and caramel flavor forward, and the caramel candy just picks it up and carries it across the finish line,” he says. “And when is the last time you peeled the plastic wrap off a caramel square? Probably when you were a kid. All of these drinks marry the adult pleasure of whisky and spirits with fond memories of childhood candy.”
Devin Vilardi, head bartender and bar manager at New York City’s Fine and Rare, also enjoys pairing whisky with sweets. “I often bring candies and dessert items for the staff to nibble on while tasting each different expression during a training. It’s a great way to awaken the taste buds and to remind the brain of the different flavors and aromas that the whisky evokes,” he says. And as a whisky sommelier for Goodnight Group Hospitality, he often uses candies when describing whiskies in his classes. “Some of the guests have had crème brûlée, cherries jubilee, or bananas foster, but all of them have had a Butterfinger, candy corn, or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s easier to describe flavors using something that they’ve personally experienced,” he explains.
Sweet Satisfaction: Pair Candy with Scotch, Bourbon, and More
Peanut Butter Cups
Pair with: Unpeated single malt scotch
Top pick: Glenmorangie Signet
“Signet’s use of heavily roasted chocolate malt brings forth deep notes of semi-sweet chocolate,” says Vilardi. “There’s an almost syrupy body with nutty undertones that both evokes and perfectly pairs with the saltiness of the peanut butter.” If you prefer traditional milk chocolate PB cups, that works too.
Pair with: Peaty scotch
Top pick: Ardbeg 10 year old
Salty, malty, crunchy Butterfingers complement briny Islay scotches. “Balancing the coastal salt with the inherent sweet cereal flavors of the whisky is where Ardbeg excels,” Vilardi says.
Pair with: Bourbon
Top pick: Buffalo Trace
Bourbon has sweet caramel and cereal notes—kind of like a Twix. “I’ve noticed it’s not difficult for one dram of easy-sipping Buffalo Trace to turn into two,” Vilardi says. “It’s a good thing there’s a second Twix bar to go with my second pour.”
Pair with: Japanese whisky
Top pick: Yamazaki 12 year old
“Japanese whiskies start with a crystal clear wash, filtered to avoid the malty and heavier tones of whiskey. This promotes lighter flavors like grass, citrus, and tropical fruits,” Vilardi explains. That makes these whiskies perfect to complement the variety of flavors in Skittles for an explosion of fruit flavors.
Pair with: Rye
Top pick: Knob Creek Rye
This pairing is both for flavor and for ambiance. “A York Peppermint Patty always makes me think of a snowy ski slope,” Vilardi says. “And nothing helps you warm up on a ski weekend like a bottle of spicy rye whiskey.” He suggests Knob Creek Rye, which also has a surprising mint finish. If you’re not a fan of mint chocolate, try Red Hots, since the rye has notes of cinnamon and baking spice.
Sour apple hard candy
Pair with: Irish pot still whiskey
Top pick: Green Spot
Ireland’s tradition of triple distillation “promotes the absolute lightest flavors and notes of stone fruit and citrus,” Vilardi says. “Green Spot has the unmistakable flavor of fresh green apple, paired with sweet manuka honey.” It’s excellent for sipping as you enjoy green apple Jolly Ranchers.
Pair with: Canadian whisky
Top pick: Alberta Rye Dark Batch
These movie theater favorites are perfect for popping with a soft, sweet, round Canadian rye. “The use of sherry in Alberta Dark Batch brings the sweet syrupy flavors of raisins into the glass,” Vilardi says. “Couple that with light hints of chocolate and spice, and that screams Raisinets.”