How to Pair Bourbon with Food?

Believe it or not, brown water is just as versatile as red wine.

Hannah Hayes
Caramel Apple Blondie Pie
Hector Sanchez

While Southerners tend to treat whiskey with a reverence that assumes a more devotional sense of sipping, it actually takes to pairing with food just as well as wine and beer. But before you start uncorking your best bottle, here are a few guidelines.

  1. Serving suggestions: If you’ve never served bourbon with a meal before, it can become a chicken and egg situation. Do you plan your meal around one bourbon or do you serve certain bottles with different dishes. For someone just diving into the brown water world, try something you already have–and like–with one course built specifically for it; dessert is a safe choice. But if you’re a little bit more knowledgable, try fixing a few dishes that coordinate with three different whiskey styles.
  2. Flavor profiles: Once you’ve figured out which whiskeys you want to serve, make notes about the background flavors in each one. Is it sweeter with vanilla and caramel? Is it spicy with tobacco and clove? Is it smoky or even floral? All of this will help you pick a dish that can augment a similar taste or create a contrast between sweet and salty or rich and light.
  3. Winning combinations: To use the parlance of our time, these are some “swipe-right” matches in our experience. Try a sweeter whiskey with a cinnamon-spiced dessert like apple or pumpkin pie; serve a spicy rye bourbon with lamb or pork chops; double down on a smoky style with bbq chicken.
  4. More adventurous choices: While a whiskey with more fruity or floral flavors is a natural choice for dessert, you can also try it to offset the savory traits of a saltier recipe like a grown-up grilled cheese. The reverse also works for a spicy or peppery bourbon with anything chocolatey.