Bourbon glass with barbecue

The Ultimate Guide to Pairing Bourbon with Barbecue: Expert Recommendations

If you’re a bourbon lover and you just so happen to be planning the perfect summer barbecue, then you may be wondering how to find the best bourbon to complement the barbecue dishes. Well, there’s no need to keep wondering because Look spoke to an expert — Chris Blatner, Founder of Urban Bourbonist — to find out.

When it comes to his top bourbon pick for barbecue, Blatner named Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, which is described as having a palate of red berries and dried spices, a nose of fruits, sweet oak, and caramel, and a finish that is soft and smooth. Four Roses also happens to be included in Look’s ranking of the 27 best bourbon brands. Blatner would describe it similarly: “It has some sweet floral qualities with a spicy backbone because of a higher rye content.” The small-batch bourbon has plenty of qualities that set it up for a successful barbecue pairing. Blatner continues, “I find it matches up well with most styles of barbecue. While it’s still 90 proof / 45% abv it tends to drink a bit softer than the proof would suggest.”

Interestingly, Blatner doesn’t like to pair bourbon with most foods because its high alcohol content can “overwhelm many dishes.” However, barbecue is an exception.

Bourbon pairs well with barbecue for 3 flavor reasons

Various barbecued foods on grill

Firstly, bourbon and barbecue have a key detail in common: smokiness. Blatner says, “Bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels which impart a rich, often smoky taste to the whiskey.” Meanwhile, barbecue dishes pick up on the charred flavor from the method of cooking. But a smoky flavor is not the only aspect that bourbon and barbecue have in common — they’re also both sweet. Blatner explains that bourbon is naturally sweet because of the high levels of corn, which is at least 51% of its mash bill (if not much higher). He continues, “Barbecue meats are often basted in sweet sauces that contain brown sugar, apple cider, and other sweet ingredients.”

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Finally, both bourbon and barbecue can be spicy. Blatner says, “Bourbon derives its spiciness from flavoring grains like rye in its mash bill and barbecue often has lots of warm spicy flavors from rubs that contain black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, mustard and slew of other zesty ingredients.” With all of this in mind, you can rest assured that all of your barbecue dishes — including all the best barbecue sides — will hold their own against the strength of a glass of bourbon.

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