We’ve previously talked about both beers and wines that can be paired with BBQ. But one thing is for sure, bourbon and barbecue are also a fantastic duo. Bourbon has long been welcome at the table of many outdoor cooking occasions. There are even festivals focused on bourbon and BBQ. Plus, many top Pitmasters not only drink bourbon alongside their barbecue but also use it in their homemade BBQ sauce, marinades, and even smoked/grilled desserts.
But, with so many brands available these days, it may leave your head spinning trying to figure out which are the best bourbons to pair with barbecue. So, we’ve got you covered (without overwhelming you even further). In this article, we’ve put together 4 great options as well as broken down exactly what bourbon is. Let’s take a look:
To truly understand why bourbon goes so well with barbecue, it’s important to know exactly what it is. You may (or may not) have heard the phrase, “all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon”. This is the extremely simplified answer to the question “what is bourbon?”.
Whiskey is made by distilling a fermented mash of grains, often including rye, wheat, barley, and corn. But, for a whiskey to be considered a bourbon, it must:
Source: The Spruce Eats
Bourbons often have robust rye, oaky vanilla, complex fruit, subtle spice, and smoky char flavors. All of which are perfect matches for barbecue. The hint of sweetness from the bourbon is a great balance with the umami and salt flavors of the meat. Depending on the specific bourbon and which are the more forward flavors, bourbons can pair very well with smoky and fatty meats (think brisket and pork butt), lighter meats (like chicken), and even smoked seafood.
Plus, bourbon won’t fill you up like drinking beer will. Ensuring you can focus on filling up on the delicious barbecue while still enjoying a perfectly paired drink.
In the bourbon options below, we’ve gone into more detail about the exact flavor profiles of each and what types of barbecue they pair well with. So, without further ado, here are some of the best bourbon options to go with BBQ, without having to spend a ton of money on a bottle.
For a great bourbon with a very reasonable price, Woodford Reserve is a top option. The deliciously complex flavor of this bourbon pairs extremely well with the flavor of smoked meats, especially beef brisket. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon is made up of more than 200 detectable flavor notes, from bold wood and spice to sweet aromatics, fruit, and floral.
This bourbon has a nose that is heavy with rich dried fruit and hints of orange and mint dusted with cocoa. There is also a faint aroma of vanilla and tobacco spice. The taste is rich, rounded, and smooth, with complex cinnamon, citrus, and cocoa flavors. You’ll also note caramel, toffee, chocolate, and spice. Enjoy a silky smooth, almost creamy finish with a warm satisfying tail.
Source: Four Roses
Barbecue that uses a robust sauce, like Memphis-style barbecue with its rich and semi-sweet flavors, needs a bourbon that can stand up to its deep flavor with rich oak and spicy rye. The Single Barrel Bourbon from the Four Roses distillery in Kentucky answers that call.
Acclaimed by many as the best bourbon offered by Four Roses, Single Barrel is bottled from individual hand-picked barrels. It is full-bodied, complex, and surprisingly smooth with a long, delicate finish that’s incredibly mellow. Thus making this bourbon a great complement to fatty meat with a rich barbecue sauce. On the nose, it gives aromas of pear, dried spice, cocoa, vanilla, and maple syrup. On the palate, you’ll taste hints of cherries and ripe plum.
#5 of the Fusion Series from the Bardstown brand is a popular favorite among many of the top BBQ pitmasters. This bourbon blends newer and older bourbons, including an 11-year sourced bourbon, to create a unique and delicious bourbon. This choice pairs extremely well with barbecue due to its sweet cream, rich bread pudding, and toasty caramelized plantain flavor notes. It’s a bit zesty as well, finishing with a hint of bitter citrus and orange zest notes.
One of the best pairings with this bourbon is pork, with its natural sweetness while still being able to carry flavor profiles. Smoked pork butt pulled and finished with a mustard-based sauce is a perfect complement to the sweet flavors of the Fusion #5 bourbon. Dry-rubbed spareribs with mild heat are another great pairing. It’s also important to allow Fusion #5 to showcase its heat by balancing it out with the natural flavors of barbecue meat.
Source: Breaking Bourbon
The award-winning Small Batch Bourbon from Elijah Craig is one of the most popular bourbons out there. But, if you want an even more elevated flavor that pairs very well with barbecue and you don’t mind spending a little more money, check out Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel. It may be harder to find a bottle of this bourbon compared to the others we’ve covered but it’s worth it. This bourbon takes the Small Batch Bourbon and, after it is matured, finishes the aging process in a new custom-toasted, flash-charred barrel, giving even more sweet oak flavor alongside a delicious smokiness.
Toasted Barrel Bourbon offers aromas of toasted oak and rich caramel. Comforting and warm flavors of milk chocolate and brown sugar blend with delicious chipotle, pepper, spices, and smoke. This bourbon is, as described by the distillery, “deeply layered and profound”. Toasted Barrel deliciously complements just about any smoky barbecue items you can cook and makes a great option for your nicer/celebratory BBQ occasions.
The options we’ve covered in this article are definitely great places to start when it comes to bourbons to pair with barbecue for a delicious combo. As you can see, you don’t always have to spend a ton of money to get a good bourbon. So, pick one of the ones above, pour yourself a glass, and enjoy it with your favorite smoked or grilled food today!
Have you tried one of the bourbons we’ve above? Do you have a different favorite to pair with barbecue? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!
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