Food Pairing Tips

By Fred Minnick


When pairing, you’re always looking for balanced perfection.

I do pairing exercises several times a month, sometimes a week, and have even paired condiments to bourbons. (In case you’re wondering, Kansas City barbecue sauce is the best condiment pairing with bourbon.) And it’s one of my absolute favoring things to do; so, happy pairing!



Bourbon can actually save sub-par desserts and ameliorate a scoop of ice cream to greatness with a shot trickled over top. But when man made chocolate, he crafted bourbon’s partner in sweet.

Six- to 12-year-old bourbon with about 15 percent to 28 percent rye in the mash bill offers the best tasting experiences with darker chocolates, peanut butter cups, or chocolates with nuts. The medium-to-high rye content coats the mouth with drips of warm bourbon and gives a buttery, creamy texture to the dark chocolate’s bitterness.

For lighter chocolates or chocolates with cream fillings, caramel or fruits, wheated bourbons actually take the sweetness down a notch, almost neutralize it, and unveil the gentle wood tannins found in wheated bourbons.



When I refer to creamy, I’m talking about chowders, cheeses, yogurts, and generally anything dairy based. Bourbon and cream go together like peas and carrots. (Sorry to steal your line, Forest!)

I particularly find cheeses are instant favorites when paired with bourbon. Parmesan, Asiago and other ultra savory cheeses scream well-aged bourbons. Look to pair Asiago’s two-year-old or older “stravecchio” (very old) with a bourbon 12 to 23 years old. The mash bill is not important here, but the higher aged bourbons bring out exotic fruits in older Asiago cheese that you can’t find alone in the bourbon or the cheese.



When pairing with nuts, too much salt is bad. Salty snacks are great with a cold beer, but can strip your palate for bourbon. Interestingly, not all bourbon-and-nut pairings are created equal.

For example, the Brazilian nut darn near renders a wheated bourbon tasteless, while a high-rye bourbon strips away the nut’s characteristics and lets you lick on the tree from whence it came. A traditional mash bill bourbon, with nearly equal parts rye and barley, accentuates the Brazilian nut’s sweeter characteristics.

With the pecan, a traditional mash bill seemingly overpowers the nut, while a high-rye bourbon enhances the mouthfeel and gives balance.


Of course, the best experience is when you have all three flavor pairings in one bite. And that, my friends, is the Justin’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup with Buffalo Trace. It’s creamy, chocolatey, and offers the essence of a nut; Buffalo Trace dances with the sweetness, complements the creaminess, and adds a slight spice to the peanut butter. The chew is perfectly balanced, nothing overpowering the other.

Fred Minnick
Official Contributor
Fred Minnick spends a lot of time with rockstars. Minnick headlines the annual Bourbon & Beyond Festival that features some of the biggest names in the music world. When he’s not hanging with rockers, he’s a student of bourbon. His award-winning books include Whiskey Women, Bourbon Curious, Bourbon, Rum Curious, and Mead. He’s also been a featured writer for Whisky Advocate, Whisky Magazine, and Covey Rise.