Expert Chris Blatner Says Balance Is Key When Pairing Bourbon With Seafood

As the weather gets warmer and you begin to plan outdoor dinner parties brimming with fresh seafood, you may be thinking of the best drink pairings for your dishes. While airy white wines and champagnes are a natural choice, bourbons are an underrated pick worth your consideration. Although the dark liquor leans a little stronger, we spoke with a bourbon expert to learn the ins and outs of pairing bourbon with seafood.

With seafood's mild flavor profile, one would be inclined to sip something that won't distract from the flavor when eating. Bourbon may sound like too bold of an option, but for Chris Blatner, Founder of UrbanBourbonist, it's all about finding balance. "The most important thing to keep in mind when pairing bourbon with seafood is that most seafood is rather delicate in flavor and you don't want to overwhelm the dish with a whiskey that is too robust in flavor or too high in alcohol by volume (ABV)," he explains. "So when pairing Bourbon with seafood I like to go with a lower ABV wheated bourbon that will typically have a lighter, softer flavor profile that will better complement the flavors of a seafood dish."

Blatner believes Old Elk Straight Wheated Bourbon is a great choice for seafood. It has an ABV of 46% and is complete with light vanilla ice cream, floral, and toffee notes, perfect for a sweet seafood dish.

How to pair bourbon with different kinds of seafood

Though all seafood is delicate, they vary in flavors and notes, so not every kind of bourbon is one-size-fits-all for pairing with seafood. With a sweeter dish, like crab or lobster, Blatner likes his bourbon a little bolder. "I like to pair them with 'high rye' bourbons that have a rye content of at least 20% in their mash bill, but the higher the better," he explains. "The rye grain will bring some bolder spice and pepper notes to contrast the sweet flavors of the lobster and crab, but the still considerable corn content will offer some sweet notes that will work in tandem with the flavors of the seafood."

If you're looking for a lighter taste from your bourbon, he thinks you should consider one that's wine-finished. "One other category of bourbons to consider are wine-finished," Blatner states. "Specifically bourbons that have been finished in former wine casks are often served with seafood." For Blatner, Amador Chardonnay Barrel Finish Wheated Bourbon and Penelope Rosé Cask Finish fit the bill.

When it comes to mixed drinks featuring bourbon, however, Blatner believes that matching the ingredients of the seafood dish with the flavors of the cocktail is the best way to strike a balance. "Bourbon cocktails that feature ingredients commonly used to season seafood will work nicely," he says. Lemon is a common seafood ingredient, and this lobster risotto is packed with it. A classic French 95 also features the citrus, making the two the perfect dinner pair.