Sip, Savor, and Pair: What Goes Well with Bourbon

Bourbon whiskey first appeared in the US around 1800 and since then, it has grown to be one of the most popular spirits in the world. With its sweet flavors and aromas, it’s a versatile drink that pairs well with many different foods. To help you get the most out of your next bourbon-fueled gathering, we’ll give you a few tips on pairing bourbon with food and other beverages.

Before proceeding further, it’s important to remember that everyone has different tastes when it comes to pairing food and drinks. We strongly encourage you to experiment with different combinations until you find a combination that works for you.

Here are some classic pairings you might want to try:

  • Bourbon and chocolate: If you like sweet flavors, try matching your glass of bourbon with a piece of dark chocolate. The sweetness of chocolate complements the sweetness of bourbon perfectly.
  • Bourbon and cheese: Rich, creamy cheese can be an excellent accompaniment for bourbon. Try pairing your whiskey with aged gouda or aged cheddar for an especially delicious combination.
  • Bourbon and fruit: Fruity flavors can also pair well with bourbons that have a hint of smokiness to them such as wheat or rye whiskeys. Try slices of fresh apples or pears with your favorite whiskey for a delectable treat.

What is Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of whiskey made in the United States and defined by the U.S. government as “whiskey produced in the United States that is made from a fermented mash of cereal grain, including at least 50% corn, and aged in charred oak barrels.”

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The origins of bourbon are steeped in both history and legend, with some theories pointing to Native Americans as the first creators of what we now call bourbon. Others believe it was first created by Scottish or Irish immigrants who settled in America, strictly adhering to their distilling traditions with new materials readily available on American soil like corn and new oak barrels. The name “bourbon” is thought to have originated from Bourbon County, Kentucky (now part of present-day Washington County) where it was first legally produced for sale in 1789.

What distinguishes bourbon from other whiskeys are aspects such as its distilled proof (at least 80) and characteristics such as its iconic sweet notes gained from its aging process which must be at least two years. While most bourbons typically contain a mash bill that includes 51% – 79% corn, rye (15% – 35%), wheat (0 – 10%) and malted barley (0 – 10%), each brand has its own unique flavor profile based on its blending ratio of grains used along with elements like aging time and the type of charred oak barrel used during this process.

Types of Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of whiskey made from corn, rye, barley, and other grains. It is typically aged for at least two years and is known for its distinct flavors and aromas.

There are four categories of bourbon: straight, blended, single barrel, and cask strength. Each type has its own unique characteristics, which can affect the flavor of the drink when paired with food or other drinks.

Let’s explore the different types of bourbon and what they can be paired with.

Wheat Bourbon

Wheat bourbon is generally made with a mash bill containing at least 51% wheat, along with the typical corn, rye and malted barley that is found in all bourbon. Although it still retains all the traditional qualities of any other bourbon whiskey, its softer approach makes it a great choice for those looking for an easy-drinking spirit without sacrificing complexity or flavor. Wheat offerings include Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength and Dry Fly Straight Wheat Whiskey.

Wheat bourbons are often compared to light beers with the upturned sweetness from the wheat being more pronounced than in their corn counterparts. They offer smooth, mild flavors of sweet grains along with touches of caramel, honey and oak spice for warmth. These flavors can be enjoyed neat as an aperitif or added to classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. For those looking to explore new spirits or just sip something different while they relax on a summer evening, wheat bourbons offer an exciting change of pace from traditional whiskey selections.

Rye Bourbon

Rye bourbon is a type of bourbon whiskey made with a mash bill that includes at least 51% rye grain. Rye adds a characteristic spiciness to the flavor and aroma profile of bourbon. It is typically aged in new, charred oak barrels for two or more years. Over time, the rye contributes notes of cinnamon and spice, as well as hints of leather and tobacco.

Rye bourbons tend to have a robust flavor profile, with more prominent flavors of vanilla, caramel, and other spices. Rye bourbons are known for their complex taste palette and they pair delightfully with foods such as smoked meats, roast beef sandwiches, chili con carne or even grilled steaks.

Corn Bourbon

Corn bourbon is a type of American whiskey made from at least 51% corn, with the remainder being other grains such as rye, wheat, and malted barley. Most traditional bourbons use around 70% corn with the other grains providing additional flavor notes. It is aged for at least two years in charred new American oak barrels and bottled at an alcohol volume of at least 40%. Although it can be enjoyed neat or over ice, it also mixes well in a variety of cocktails.

Corn Bourbon generally has a sweet, spicy flavor similar to that of honey. Its complex aromas include vanilla, caramelized sugar, oak, and clove. To make sure you get the most out of your bourbon experience there are three steps you should take: sip slowly by taking short sips; savor it by allowing the subtleties to develop on your palate; and pair it with foods that complement its sweetness and spices.

Foods that go well with Corn Bourbon include grilled meats such as pork or beef brisket; roasted vegetables like carrots or potatoes; fruit desserts like blueberry cobbler or apple pie; and cheese dishes like macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches. Try serving these dishes alongside your favorite pourings of Corn Bourbon for an unforgettable meal!

Food Pairings

Pairing food with bourbon can be a great way to enhance bourbons already rich flavors. There’s no set list of food pairings for bourbon, so it is best to experiment and find what works best for you.

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In this section, we’ll dive into some classic food pairings with bourbon and explain why they work so well together.

Salty Snacks

For many, the combination of salty and savory snacks goes hand in hand with enjoying a favorite beverage. The perfect food pairing should bring out the sensory qualities of both food and beverage, allowing each to shine on its own while harmonizing together as one. When it comes to salty snacks, here are some great suggestions for classic pairings to enhance the flavors of your snack and drink.

Lagers and Wheat Beers with Pretzels: Lager and wheat beers tend to be crisp, refreshing beers that pair perfectly with pretzels. This classic pairing’s mild malt flavor will accentuate the salt without overpowering the pretzels’ subtle flavor.

IPAs with Potato Chips: While IPAs tend to have strong hops and bitter flavors, they can sometimes clash harshly with more powerful salt flavors like potato chips. To make this combination more enjoyable, try looking for less-bitter IPAs for a smoother transition between potato chips and beer.

Dark Beers like Stouts or Porters with Fried Onion Rings: Fried onion rings offer a powerful salty flavor that pairs perfectly with dark beers such as stouts or porters. With their heartier body and slightly sweet malty flavor, these darker brews will bring out the aroma of fried onion rings without overpowering them.

Red Wine with Salami: Salami is a classic Italian-style cured meat that possesses lively flavors that can be enhanced by a glass of red wine such as Merlot or Malbec – two medium-bodied wines that are known for their mellow tannins and earthy notes. The natural acidity of both salami’s cured pork profile and fruit forward reds provide a wonderful balance making this pair an ideal match!

Sweet Treats

Sweet treats can add the perfect finishing touch to any meal or special occasion if paired with the right kind of bourbon. Many kinds of dessert items work well with this spirit, including rich and indulgent treats like cakes, cupcakes, pies, and even ice cream. When pairing sweet foods with bourbon, it is important to remember that a little goes a long way. The boldness of some bourbons can be rather overwhelming when combined with certain desserts. The following recommendations should generally result in a fair balance between the two flavors:

-Chocolate cake: Enjoyed best with wheated or wheat bourbons like Maker’s Mark or Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon.

-Pecan pie: For this particular dessert, give rye bourbons like Sazerac 6 Year Old Rye or Woodford Reserve Rye a try.

-Cheesecake: For lighter cheesecakes, opt for smoother whiskies like Buffalo Trace Bourbon; stronger bourbons such as Wild Turkey 101 are better suited for richer cheesecakes.

-Ice cream: For ice cream flavors that call for subtlety, pick a milder whiskey such as Basil Hayden’s; if you are looking to pair a more potent flavor of ice cream – think rocky road – grab something boozier such as Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon.


Cheese makes a great pairing with bourbon because of the complexity that is found in both. The many nuances of flavor in different types of cheese combine to provide both richness and depth to your favorite bourbon.

Hard cheeses like a good Parmesan, cheddar, or gouda will stand up to the full-bodied smokiness and sweetness found in a glass of bourbon. Soft cheeses like brie or creamy blue cheese bring a new layer of flavor thanks to their underlying earthy, nutty character.

Whatever type of cheese you choose, it’s all about finding the right balance between the creamy texture of the cheese and the sweet notes offered by the bourbon. Here are some classic pairings that can help you get started:

  • Grilled Cheese + Bourbon: A perfect comfort combination! Grilled cheese pairs perfectly with full-bodied bourbons such as Maker’s Mark or Jim Beam Black Label.
  • Cheddar + Knob Creek Bacons Reserve: A classic matches this robust bottle as its smoky flavors cut through sharp and aged cheddar wonderfully.
  • Brie + Woodford Reserve Double Oaked: The buttery lightness of brie brings out subtle notes like honey and caramel from lighter blends such as this one from Woodford Reserve
  • Blue Cheese + Noah’s Mill Bourbon Whiskey: Strong blue cheeses require strong bourbons like Noah’s Mill — this chicory and fig flavored whiskey stands up well against these robust flavors


A delicious cut of beef, beef sliders, or lamb makes a great partner for a snifter of your favorite bourbon. Charred and seared steaks, like filet mignon and ribeye steaks, pair best with a rich Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Meanwhile, lighter cuts such as chuck steak also work well with classic cocktails such as sours and Highballs.

The spicy kick of Cajun-seasoned meats can be perfectly balanced out by the smooth character of bourbon in recipes like gumbo, jambalaya, or blackened pork tenderloin. Or try grilling up some juicy burgers for smoky flavor in something like a Sazerac or an Old Pal. If you’re looking for something to complement your favorite grilled chicken recipe consider pairing it with an American whiskey-based cocktail such as a Kentucky Buck.

No matter what style you’re serving up from the kitchen there always seems to be a match for the diner and a correct pairing for the whiskey beverage that find common ground between them without overpowering either component. Bourbon may have its roots in the United States but its appreciation around the world lends itself to special meals at any time of year no matter your style or preference!


Bourbon is an American whiskey, made from corn and is usually aged in charred oak barrels. While sipping it neat is one of the most popular ways to enjoy it, the spirit can also shine when used in cocktails.

In this section, we will look at different cocktail recipes and explain how to pair cocktails with bourbons. So, let’s get started!

Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned—created in the early 1800s—is a classic whiskey cocktail that’s perfect for a cozy night spent at home. The recipe is simple and uncomplicated, making it easy to make even while entertaining at home. It’s also highly customizable, with many variations available. Made of whiskey, sugar, bitters and orange peel or lemon twist as a garnish, this timeless recipe is as smooth-tasting as it is simple.

Most often served neat or over ice in an Old Fashioned-style glass (also called “rocks”), this cocktail works well with many types of spirits but especially with bourbon for its rich flavor and smooth finish. When making this cocktail at home, use quality ingredients to bring out the best in the drink: use your favorite quality of bourbon (or substitute rye whiskey), freshly squeezed orange juice instead of triple sec or sweet and sour mix along with Angostura bitters. Experimenting with house-made simple syrups will make all the difference to take your Old Fashioned from good to great!

Add jazz up your classic drink by adding fresh citrus juices such as grapefruit or lime or add muddled blueberries for sweetness or mint leaves for added flavor notes combined with the natural flavors already present in your bourbon selection. The possibilities are endless! Be sure to enjoy responsibly and age 21+.


The Manhattan is an iconic cocktail originating in the 19th century. Traditionally made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and a splash of orange or Angostura bitters, this classic blend of flavors still stands the test of time and remains a mainstay of the modern cocktail scene.

For a true Manhattan experience, use a minimum of two ounces of aged rye whiskey as well as one ounce or less of sweet vermouth. A few dashes of Angostura bitters and two maraschino cherries may also be added for balance. For a twist on the classic cocktail, other liquors can be subbed in such as bourbon or Canadian whisky, or even dry white vermouth for those who prefer their cocktails lighter.

Once all ingredients are mixed together well and strained into a chilled glass (preferably over ice), enjoy this timeless libation with friends or family. Cheers!

Mint Julep

The Mint Julep is a classic cocktail that has been popular for centuries, making it one of the oldest cocktails in existence. It consists of four simple ingredients: Bourbon whiskey, sugar or simple syrup, mint leaves, and crushed ice. Its origins trace back to Kentucky in the middle of the 19th century, though it is now an iconic Southern staple.

To make a perfect Mint Julep, you will need a julep cup (or any other 12-ounce glass), bourbon whiskey, crushed or shaved ice, sugar or simple syrup (optional), fresh mint leaves (or dried mint if fresh isn’t available), and water – club soda is another option but not completely necessary. Put 4-5 fresh mint leaves into a glass and muddle them slightly to release their flavor. Place 1-2 teaspoons of sugar or simple syrup at the bottom of the glass along with two ounces of bourbon whiskey. Fill with crushed or shaved ice and stir vigorously until outside of glass is frosty from condensation; top with additional crushed/shaved ice if necessary. Garnish with more fresh mint leaves before serving.

The result is an incredibly refreshing cocktail that’s perfect for summer days and warm evenings alike! For best results, be sure to use a quality bourbon whiskey as this will make all the difference to your final drink. The sweet and woody characteristics of whisky pair incredibly well with peppermint flavors found in the cocktail!


Bourbon is a special spirit that provides depth and complexity to every sip, and its taste can be enhanced with the right food pairing. If you’re looking to create an outstanding culinary experience with whiskey, Bourbon is the bottle to choose. It pairs perfectly with a range of foods from snacks like peanuts and popcorn to gourmet entrees such as beef bourguignon or honey glazed ham. Its flavor can even be complemented by unique dishes like buffalo chicken dumplings or grilled pineapple slices — if you’re feeling adventurous! But regardless of what you choose, the key is to balance the tastes with flavors that are sweet, salty, acidic, or smoky.

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This guide has provided some insight into pairing Bourbon with food so you can enjoy it in its most savory state. However, there are still many possibilities to explore and savor — so keep experimenting! With its smoothness and caramel notes, Bourbon always delivers an unforgettable way for friends and family to come together over meals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best food to pair with bourbon?

If you’re looking to pair bourbon with food, you can’t go wrong with a classic American cheese plate. The nuttiness of the cheese pairs perfectly with the smoky, vanilla notes of bourbon. Other great options include smoked meats, dark chocolate, and caramel desserts.

What are some good mixers for bourbon?

Ginger ale, club soda, and cola are all popular mixers for bourbon. You can also experiment with different flavors of juice or tonic. For a more complex flavor, try adding bitters or a splash of dry vermouth.

What type of glass should I use for drinking bourbon?

A rocks glass or an old-fashioned glass is the best choice for serving bourbon. It allows for the aromas and flavors of the bourbon to be fully enjoyed. A snifter can also be used for more complex bourbons, as it captures the aroma of the spirit.

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Author: Justin

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