In the world of epicurean delights, very few combinations evoke as much satisfaction and fascination as food and bourbon. The marriage of nuanced aromas, exquisite textures, and complex flavors can transform an ordinary meal into a symphony of indulgence. And although there is nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite bourbon on its own, this golden liquor also has a place at the table. Whether you are a curious epicurean or a seasoned connoisseur, pairing food with bourbon can elevate your palate to new heights. Here is everything you need to know about bourbon and food pairing for epicurean delights.
What is Bourbon?
Before we explore how to pair bourbon with food, let’s first discuss what makes bourbon unique. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is widely known for its rich and distinctive flavor profile. It is primarily prepared from fermented corn mash and aged in charred oak barrels, which gives the spirit certain qualities.
For it to be considered bourbon, the spirit must meet several legal requirements, like being produced in the United States and having at least 51% corn in its grain formula. Bourbon is typically served neat, on the rocks, in a cocktail, or with a splash of water. Its robust flavor profile and versatility make it a great spirit to pair with various foods.
How to Pair Bourbon with Food
The key to pairing bourbon with food lies in matching flavors. While it’s easy to identify the flavors in food, bourbon can be more challenging. This is because bourbon comes in a wide range of flavors, such as caramel, fruit, peanuts, tobacco, cloves, spices, and much more. Each bourbon has a distinctive flavor profile that must be taken into account when pairing. It may seem daunting, but all you need to do is concentrate on one or two factors. These guidelines will set you on the right path to pairings that always work.
Check the Proof
A bourbon’s proof can significantly affect the ideal pairing. Generally, bourbons with a lower proof (40%-47% ABV) tend to pair well with delicate or lightly cooked foods like vegetables, seafood, cheese, or desserts.
When it comes to those above 47% ABV, bolder foods are required to withstand the higher proof. This is because higher-proof bourbons generally have a more intense flavor profile compared to lower-proof ones. A higher-proof bourbon may overpower subtle or delicate flavors in certain foods, so it’s always best to pair it with dishes that can easily stand up to its potencies, such as grilled meats, strong desserts, or fatty steak.
Lower Proof Pairing: Pan-seared salmon with Four Roses Single Barrel
Higher Proof Pairing: Grilled steak with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Complement or Contrast
When pairing food with bourbon, you can either complement or contrast flavors. Complementing involves looking for food flavors that perfectly harmonize with the qualities of the bourbon. For example, if the bourbon features notes of vanilla, dried fruit, or caramel, you can pair it with desserts like banana pudding, chocolate, or custard cake. Additionally, spicy or sweet dishes can complement bourbons with similar flavor profiles. For instance, a bourbon with clove or cinnamon notes can be paired with a spicy barbecue meal.
On the other hand, contrasting flavors have an entirely different effect. However, they can create an interesting interplay between your food and the bourbon when paired correctly. The approach of pairing contrasting flavors involves finding the right balance between the flavors and textures in the food and the ones in the bourbon. For example, a higher-proof bourbon can counterbalance the richness of heavy or fatty dishes like grilled steak and creamy pasta.
Complementary Pairing: Chocolate Mousse with Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon
Contrasting Pairing: Bacon-wrapped sweet potatoes with Basil Hayden’s 10 Year Straight Bourbon
Different Tastes of Bourbon
- Sweetness: Bourbon frequently exhibits a noticeable sweetness, which can be mild or pronounced. The caramelization of sugars during the aging process is usually the source of this sweetness.
- Vanilla: Vanilla is a popular flavor in many bourbons. It is caused by aging whiskey in charred oak barrels. The wood imparts compounds like vanillin, giving the bourbon a creamy, smooth, and sweet vanilla taste.
- Spice: Many bourbons feature varying levels of spiciness. Common spice flavors include nutmeg, clove, black pepper, and cinnamon. Spicy flavors provide a pleasant contrast to the sweetness and improve the overall flavor profile.
- Fruit and Citrus: Some bourbons have fruity flavors, such as plum, apple, or cherry. Citrus notes like lemon zest or orange can also be present. These flavors enhance the complexity and brightness of the bourbon.
- Smokiness: Some whiskeys, especially those from Scotland, have a smoky flavor. This is usually caused by the use of peat during malting.
- Caramel and Butterscotch: The aging process can bring out butterscotch and caramel flavors in bourbon. These flavors enhance the overall richness and sweetness of the whiskey.
- Earthiness: Some bourbons have an earthy flavor because they were aged in barrels that initially held red wine. The use of peat, which is common in some bourbon, can also be a factor.
- Chocolate: Some bourbons have a chocolate flavor, which often comes from roasted malts or barrels that previously held cocoa or chocolate.
Bourbon and Food Suggestions
After learning the fundamentals of bourbon and how to pair it with food, putting your knowledge into practice will help it stick in your memory and prevent it from fading. Here are some suggestions to get you started on your food pairing journey, but keep in mind that your preferences will determine what works for you.
- Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve – Coconut cream pie, grilled pineapple, grilled pork chops
- Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Barrel Bourbon – Pecan pie, fried chicken, grilled steak
- Four Roses Small Batch – Dark chocolate, smoked salmon, grilled chicken
- Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey – Roasted sweet potatoes, pecan pie, grilled steak
- Glenmorangie 10 Year Single Malt Scotch – Grilled peaches, grilled shrimp, vanilla ice cream
- Glenlivet 12 Year First Fill – Roasted chicken, cheesecake, grilled salmon
- Lagavulin 16 Year Islay Single Malt Scotch – Grilled steak, oysters, blue cheese, dark chocolate
- Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream – Apple pie, grilled steak, barbecue ribs
- Laphroaig 10 Year Original Cask Strength – Grilled or smoked ribs, dark chocolate, spicy shrimp
- The Macallan 12 Year Double Cask – Smoked salmon, lamb chops, lobster, fruitcake
There Are No Right or Wrong Pairings
When it comes to bourbon and food pairing, there are no universal pairings because everyone has different tastes. If you relish your favorite dish with a specific bourbon, by all means, savor that perfect match and share it with friends if you like.
That said, the above tips might help you experiment with different bourbon and food pairings. Continue trying other combinations until you find one that appeals to your taste buds. Get a bottle of your favorite bourbon from Nestor Liquor and prepare your meal for a magical dining experience. The perfect pairing is out there – you just need to find it.
Bourbon and food pairing is a beautiful art that brings together the nuances of flavors to create a pleasant dining experience. Whether you prefer complex bourbons or subtly spiced bourbons, you can improve your enjoyment by matching them with the correct meals. From sweet and savory pairings to contrasting flavors, the possibilities are infinite. So the next time you enjoy a glass of bourbon, take some time to explore the world of food pairings and see the magic that happens when fine spirits meet delectable dishes.
How Do You Enjoy Bourbon?
If you want to enjoy whiskey in its purest form, consider serving it neat in a traditional whiskey class or tulip-shaped glass. However, you can also enjoy it on the rocks or as a cocktail. Resist the urge to drink your entire glass in one swig when pairing. Take your time and savor each sip.
Can I Pair Bourbon with Any Type of Food?
While it is possible to pair bourbon with a wide variety of foods, it is important to find flavors that perfectly complement each other for a delightful dining experience.
Are There Foods That I Should Avoid When Pairing With Bourbon?
Personal taste preferences vary, meaning that what would be a bad combination for you would probably taste great to someone else. This is why it’s crucial to experiment with different pairings until you find the ones that suit you. However, it is generally recommended to avoid heavily spiced dishes that may overshadow the bourbon flavors. Additionally, extremely acidic or sweet foods may not always pair well with bourbon.
Can You Use Bourbon in Cooking?
Absolutely! Adding bourbon may give savory foods, sauces, and even sweets a distinctive depth of taste. It is effective in glazes for grilled or roasted foods, marinades for meats, and caramel or chocolate sauces for desserts. Just remember that alcohol can evaporate when cooking, which could cause the bourbon flavor to fade.
Where Can I Buy Bourbon for Food Pairing?
You can purchase bourbons for food pairing at Nestor Liquor. This online liquor store is a haven for bourbon enthusiasts and culinary adventurers alike, offering a wide range of premium bourbons that pair perfectly with a variety of delectable cuisines. Some popular brands for food pairing include Four Roses Single Barrel, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Buffalo Trace.