The Ideal Proof Range When Pairing Bourbon With Dessert

Bourbon is a classic American spirit primarily produced in Kentucky. You've probably heard of bourbon brands like Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam, which are based out of the Bluegrass State and there is a perfectly good reason that Kentucky, of all places, lies at the heart of this liquor production. According to History, Kentucky alone produces 95% of total global bourbon production. The state's climate, in combination with its clean water — and its corn and grain production — lends itself to the industry. Bourbon is a protected United States whiskey product and legally must use 51% corn for it to carry the title (per Food & Wine).

Much like wine, harder alcohols are known to pair well with foods and bourbon is often complemented by sweets. The Rookie Barkeep says bourbon pairs especially well with desserts like cherry pie, chocolate mousse, bread pudding, and crème brûlée. But what kind of bourbon works best with these sugary treats?

Spirits can be overwhelming

There are a lot of different kinds of bourbon out there to choose from. They could be aged, use a variety of mash blends, or have different proof levels. "Proof" refers to the amount of alcohol in the bottle most commonly read as ABV, or Alcohol by Volume (via Food Network). The higher the proof, the higher the alcohol content, so is it better to have higher or lower-proofed bourbon when pairing it with desserts?

According to Whisky Advocate, high-proof bourbon used to be the norm until the 1960s when distillers began to water down their product to an average ABV of 40% or 43%. This change highlighted the sweeter notes in the spirit like caramel and vanilla while mitigating the intense spice characteristics found in higher-proof bottles. Today, the average bottle of bourbon continues to sit at that 40% to 50% ABV benchmark because consumers like how much smoother it is. Rabbit Hole Distillery says that you are easily able to find other bourbons with 80 to 100-proof alcohol but these kinds of bottles exhibit a harsher taste. The higher ABV bourbons, therefore, don't pair as well with desserts due to their intense nature, and instead, the lower ABV spirits will go down smoother and pair better with lighter-tasting dishes. 

However, you can absolutely go for a bottle of higher-proof stuff if you can find foods to match the intensity of the bourbon like dark chocolate (via Whiskey Reviewer).