whiskey cocktails and tinned sardine

Whiskey Cocktails to Pair with Tinned Fish

Tinned fish, like canned sardines or canned trout, the underrated canned fish you should have on your next charcuterie board, are convenient and great over buttered toast or paired with a whiskey cocktail, but they tend to be quite bold in flavor. So to nail down the ultimate pairing, we consulted with whiskey pairing expert Robyn Smith, PhD, founder of This Blog’s NEAT.

Smith stated, “I love canned sardines, and the flavors can hold up to a more robust, whiskey-forward cocktail. I would pair this with an Old Fashioned. The complex flavors of whiskey, bitters, sugar, and a twist of citrus pair well with the strong, savory taste of canned sardines.” Bold, rich flavors need to be balanced with other bold, rich flavors. The citrus notes in an Old Fashioned also work well to mask and temper all the strong fishy odors in tinned fish. For example, a squirt of lemon makes all the difference in your fried fish dishes. 

When crafting an Old Fashioned to pair with tinned fish, Smith has another tip. She added, “Instead of using a bourbon, I suggest picking a rich and fruity rye whiskey, such as the George Dickel and Leopold Bros Collaboration Rye, in your Old Fashioned.” The warmth from spices and the fruitiness of Smith’s rye whiskey picks help contrast the oily, salty characteristics of canned sardines. 

Smoky whiskey pairs beautifully with smoky tinned trout

tinned fish

Diving deeper into our conversation with Robyn Smith, we asked her to recommend the best whiskey cocktail to pair with tinned trout. She responded, “Similarly to sardines, the flavors of tinned trout can withstand the flavors of a strong cocktail like the Boulevardier. Because this whiskey cocktail includes a blend of sweet vermouth and Campari, it has much more bitterness and sweetness that balances the rich, oily, sometimes smoky flavors of tinned trout.” Our classic Boulevardier cocktail recipe, garnished with an aromatic orange peel, is perfect for pairing with this dish. 

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Smith also recommended which whiskey to choose to mix into your Boulevardier. She explained, “I would lean into the sweetness of this cocktail and choose a barrel-finished bourbon like Freeland Spirits Pinot Noir finished bourbon, especially if the flavors of the tinned trout are smoky with a strong umami taste.” Smoke is, in fact, one of the 9 most common tasting notes for bourbon. The smokiness in bourbon would enhance tinned trout’s smokiness, making this pairing perfectly complementary. 

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