bottle of bourbon and barbecue meats

Choosing the Perfect Bourbon for Your Summer Barbecue

When you prepare to host a summer barbecue, there’s a lot of thought that goes into the food spread. You’ve got smoky grilled meats, fresh and sweet fruits, seasonal vegetables like grilled corn, and all of the rich side dishes like creamy dill potato salad and tangy baked beans. So when it comes to the booze to serve with the varying flavors of the spread, it’s essential to get it right, especially with stronger booze like bourbon. To find out the best bourbon to pair with the sweet, spicy, and smoky dishes at the barbecue, Look turned to Chris Blatner, founder of Urban Bourbonist, LLC.

“The characteristics I would look for in a bottle to pair with barbecue would be something that finds the balance between sweet and spice,” Blatner explained. “I like bourbons that are closer to the 51% corn threshold in their mash bill. Anything between 51-60% corn and a higher rye content around 15-20% would be ideal.” As a refresher, those percentages are what makes up the mash bill, or the grains that make up the ingredients of each variety of bourbon.

Bourbons that pair well with spicy meats and sweet sauces

barbecue ribs and corn

Blatner has solid reasoning for why bourbons that offer a balance of sweetness and spiciness pair well with barbecued meats and other foods found at summer cookouts. “These Bourbons will still have the sweet notes you expect but also have a bit of a kick of spice that can stand up to any overly sweet sauces or ride along perfectly next [to] any meat that was prepared a little spicier,” Blatner said. Based on his advice, Look found a few bourbon brands that might work for your summertime boozing. Buffalo Trace Bourbon has up to 15% rye content to match Blatner’s suggestions. Another option is Knob Creek’s 9-year-aged bourbon, which has a mash bill of 75% corn and 13% rye. You can also check out the options in our ranking of the best bourbon brands.

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To try one of the bourbons in a cocktail, make Look’s strawberry peppercorn smash recipe that uses 2 ounces of bourbon. Our summertime peach whiskey smash is also another cocktail that will be a stand out at your next barbecue. And you can never go wrong with a classic mint julep cocktail to try out Blatner’s bourbon expertise with your grilled meats and side dishes.

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