As any bourbon enthusiast will tell you, there are few things more enjoyable than unwinding at the end of a long day with a glass of your favorite spirit. It’s a tradition that has spread far beyond its humble roots in the American South. Nowadays, people all over the world enjoy the vast flavors that dance across their palates as they savor this unique beverage.
For those who really want to kick the experience up a notch, bourbon is even better when it’s paired with the right foods. As you build your bourbon knowledge and develop your palate, you’ll find that you can discover unique tasting notes that are only unlocked with the right flavor combinations.
It’s true that some people are intimidated by the concept of food pairings, seeing it as a complicated process that can only be navigated by professionals or very experienced hobbyists. While it’s certainly something you will get better at over time, at its core, it’s simple. This is especially true when it comes to pairing bourbon. If you’re a beginner to food pairing, you don’t need to think of it as being especially complex or difficult. Just keep in mind that bourbon is a Southern drink and pairs well with Southern foods. By virtue of being prepared in charred oaken barrels, it happens to work well with smoky foods in a way that other whiskeys do not.
This list offers a few pairings for you to try, but feel free to experiment and create your own using what you learn here. Ultimately, it boils down to your personal preference and your willingness to try new combinations. Below, we’ve listed seven of our favorite bourbon pairings to delight your taste buds, but these are only the beginning:
- Four Roses Single Barrel and Steak
As we’ve mentioned above, a key feature of bourbon that distinguishes it from other spirits is that it is matured in charred oak barrels. As a result of this, bourbon has a unique caramelized flavor that pairs well with meats, especially a good steak. The key when pairing with steak is to find a good cut of meat and a bold bourbon.
Four Roses Single Barrel is one such choice. Ask your server to cook your steak medium-rare and serve your drink neat, and then sit back and enjoy the rich flavors of brown sugar and peaches as they commingle with the smoky and slightly fatty taste of the beef.
- Rebel Yell and Chicken
When you choose to pair bourbon with chicken, you’ll need something that won’t overpower the meat. Chicken, when cooked right, is very flavorful, but that flavor can easily be overshadowed by a drink that’s too strong. You’ll want to pair with something that’s a tad more delicate on the palate and not too high proof. Rebel Yell is an excellent choice for complementing the salty sweetness of a good barbecued chicken dish. With a proof of 80, the alcohol content won’t interfere with the juiciness of the chicken, and the notes of honey will match the slightly charred flavor of the chicken perfectly.
- Elijah Craig Small Batch and a Baked Potato
Speaking of Southern food, what’s more Southern—and more decadent—than a loaded baked potato? Pair it with something equally bold and simple by opting for a pour of Elijah Craig Small Batch. With the oak flavor notes dominant here, Elijah Craig is a strong enough flavor to combine with something heavy, like a baked potato. Visit a bourbon restaurant like Bourbon & Bones and ask for their loaded baked potato and a glass of Elijah Craig, neat. You won’t be sorry.
- Garrison Brothers and Lobster Mac and Cheese
Lobster is a uniquely rich dish, especially when mixed up with the perfect comfort food: mac and cheese. Lobster Mac and Cheese combines the delicate brininess of the lobster with the bold, fatty flavor of the cheese, and so it requires a drink pairing that is equally bold. How about trying it with something really bold?
Enter Garrison Brothers. At 134.3 proof, few bourbons pack the punch this one does. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy the flavor, though. A warm, spicy drink with hints of marshmallows and pudding, this is rich enough for any seafood dish.
- Basil Hayden’s with a Salad
Of course, not everything on this list needs to be rich, heavy, or meaty. Just because you want a lighter meal doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good glass of bourbon. This is equally true if you’re a vegetarian or keeping to a diet that precludes you from eating anything too heavy.
It’s perfectly possible to pair bourbon with a light salad if you’re so inclined. The key is to look for a smooth, light, citrusy bourbon, and Basil Hayden’s happens to check all those boxes. With slightly peppery notes, it pairs wonderfully with fruits of all kinds as well as tomatoes and many vegetables.
- Jim Beam Double Oak and Vanilla Ice Cream
Bourbon is great with desserts too. There are plenty of dessert pairings you can choose at your favorite bourbon restaurant. A maple bourbon cake or a delicious créme brûlée can pair perfectly with the right glass. But you can also opt to keep it simple and just try a glass with some vanilla ice cream. Jim Beam Double Oak has notes of vanilla that will complement the ice cream perfectly. You can even pour the bourbon directly over the ice cream and make yourself a float.
- Angel’s Envy and Chocolate Cake
Beer, wine, whiskey, and bourbon drinkers can all agree on one thing: you have to find something you can pair with chocolate. And while Angel’s Envy isn’t a bourbon in the strictest sense (it’s aged in port wine casks instead of charred oak), it’s on the menu and is something every bourbon aficionado should try. The port barrels lend it an extra bit of sweetness that works well with the chocolate, and the hints of cherries and vanilla complement the flavor perfectly.