This Is Your Expert Guide For Pairing Bourbon And Food The Right Way

Everybody's heard of pairing wine with food, but what about bourbon? While bourbon is frequently used in cooking such as caramelized Brussels sprouts, sipping whiskey with food is less common. The notion of pairing bourbon with food might seem like an impossible task due to the strong flavor and feeling of bourbon, but it is possible. When done correctly, a good bourbon and food pairing can bring out the tasting notes of the bourbon and make for a cohesive meal. Tasting Table recently chatted with Mandy Naglich, Certified Taster and author of "How to Taste: A Guide to Discovering Flavor and Savoring Life," where she shared her advice for successfully pairing bourbon and food. Her first tip to make bourbon more pairable is to tone down the intensity of it.

"Try diluting the whiskey at least a little with ice or cool water," says Naglich. "When paired properly you should be able to taste both the food and the whiskey."

Pairing bourbon and food is all about creating a balance. If you're diluting the bourbon, you should also intensify your food's flavor. Naglich advises against pairing "delicate" foods such as salads or sushi, as these foods' flavors can get lost against the liquor. Instead, she recommends rich foods like chocolate or cheese.

"Bourbon pairs nicely with chocolate-covered nuts and rich aged cheeses," she says. "Both have flavors of nuttiness and richness which harmonize with bourbon."

How do food and whiskey impact the flavor of each other?

Creating a cohesive tasting experience that elevates the flavors present is the entire purpose of a food pairing. Mandy Naglich believes that a proper pairing should reveal a new flavor. Simply put, you should notice something new about your meal after experiencing the taste of your food and your bourbon, one after the other.

"Pairing a pineapple upsidedown cake with a bourbon can soften the tangy edges of the fruit to showcase more of the vanilla and caramelized sugar," Naglich explains. "On the other end of the spectrum, you can try pairing bourbons with really salty snacks; the salt highlights some savory notes in the bourbon like almond skin or toasted bread crust."

Bourbons are filled with dozens of unique tasting notes, and the mouthfeel of the bourbon can sometimes make it hard to detect these flavors. Or if you're new to drinking bourbon, you may struggle to pinpoint these notes. Before you jump into bourbon and food pairings, you should do a whiskey tasting to understand the flavors. By using flavor pairings with similar tasting notes you can emphasize these flavors.

How to balance the flavors of whiskey with your food

Mandy Naglich advises you to focus on balancing flavors, rather than enhancing them. This phrase may sound counterproductive, but it means that if you focus too much on complementing the bourbon's taste you risk having the alcohol overpower everything. When you consider what to pair your bourbon with, Naglich says to focus on a specific tasting note.

"If there is a specific note in a specific bourbon you like, for example, a flavor of cherry, it is fun to enhance that flavor by pairing it with a similar food, like dried cherry," says Naglich. "This should elevate that quality in the bourbon so you can really taste it and enjoy it."

Tasting notes in whiskey can range from vanilla to honey, to smokey, to pepper, so you have a multitude of flavors to experiment with and focus on. If you're enjoying a smokier whiskey, try pairing a smoked gouda. If you're sipping bourbon with honey notes, try it with vanilla ice cream to get those sweeter hints. Naglich says that something interesting to try with pairings is using a food item with opposite flavors to see how those tasting notes become muted in the whiskey. If you're sipping a sweeter bourbon, try a salty nut with it and see how it lessens the sweet notes. Experiment with different bourbon brands to get the full flavor range.