Bourbon, meet barbecue
The American whiskey pairs perfectly with smoky, meaty flavors, so check out these 5 chef-approved picks before you fire up the grill.
It’s summertime in Colorado, the livin’ is easy and the grills are hot.
With barbecue season in full swing, RED conferred with Metropolitan State University of Denver hospitality experts for the best bourbon-and-barbecue pairings this side of the solstice.
The key? Getting the flavor combinations right, said Professor Michael Wray, Ph.D.
“The way bourbon is distilled impacts its final flavor and mouthfeel,” said Wray, who teaches the University’s Beer and Spirits course. He recently teamed up with chef Jeff Koch, instructor of a Food Production and Service class, for a five-course bourbon-and-barbecue pairing at MSU Denver’s Hospitality Learning Center.
“Along with the barrel-aging process and ingredient variants – say, corn versus rye – you’re going to have very different profiles that affect accompanying foods you’ll choose,” Wray said.
Here are Wray’s spirited suggestions for what to sip at your next summer soirée.
Slaw sampler: creamy, Carolina and broccoli
Pairing: Old Charter 8 Year, Basil Hayden’s or Four Roses
“In your first course, you want to match light with lightness,” Wray said. “With that, you want something flavorful but not overpowering; these have that but with a softness that makes them a natural fit for lighter fare.”
Bacon-wrapped jalapeños with raspberry jam
Pairing: Elijah Craig Small Batch or Buffalo Trace
“If you’ve got a spicy food for the second course, you’ll want to have a sweeter bourbon to contrast and mask the spiciness,” Wray said. “Additionally, higher percentages of corn – say, 65-to-75% – bring out sweeter notes.”
Sausage plate: andouille sausage with mustard BBQ, Italian sausage with Romesco sauce and chorizo sausage with honey chipotle BBQ
Pairing: Maker’s Mark, Pappy Van Winkle, Larceny or Rebel Yell
“As we’re approaching heavier food in the third course, you’ll want the smoothness still but something compelling; these have sugar but also have elements like vinegar,” Wray said. “When you’ve got complex food flavors, you’ll want to keep the spirit simple, though – otherwise it’s like wearing plaid and paisley together; it’s just too much.”
Pulled-pork slider with BBQ and roasted vegetable kabob
Pairing: Basil Hayden’s, Four Roses or Old Grand Dad
“This is where you want the full-bodied drink of something like a 30%-35% rye, where the spice contrasts the rich food and meets the intensity of the fat,” Wray said. “It’s similar to how a cabernet sauvignon pairs well with a steak; it’s got the same tannic and bitterness profile. In this case, that depth and spice of the oak and tannins work wonderfully – the bitter goes well with the richness, like coffee and cream.”
Pairing: Pinhook or W. L. Weller Special Reserve
For this final dish, Wray suggested increasing heft by adding caramel or pecan praline on the top to pair with a lighter bourbon, allowing the dessert to shine.
“Caramelized sugars in praline mirror or echo the vanilla and toasted wood hints from a charred oak-aged bourbon,” he said. “If the bourbon was too heavy oaked it would easily overpower the dessert.”
”Furthermore, a bourbon above 90-proof with extended oak aging is an aperitif itself, no dessert required.”
Interested in learning more about pairing alcohol and food? Check out these upcoming pairing events developed and hosted by MSU Denver food and beverage experts:
- July 25th (Thursday) – Bacon, Brats, and Brews with Scott Kerkmans, Chef Koch, Jeff Rice and Joseph LaViolette; 5:30-7:30 p.m.
- August 26 (Monday) – Stop and Smell the Rosé with Michael Wray, Chef Rice and Joseph LaViolette; 5:30-7:30 p.m.
All events are open to the public with a discount for University faculty/staff. For more information, visit the event pages or contact Susan Conder.