The Whisky Chicks teamed up with Westport Whiskey & Wine, Maker’s Mark, and Beam Suntory to provide a hands-on food and bourbon tasting extravaganza. This event is the first event of two, with the second being a food pairing with Japanese Whisky. The event intended to pair bourbons with a variety of different foods. We cataloged how the foods change the taste profiles of the bourbon, and vice versa.
Thomas Bolton, Maker’s Mark Brand Ambassador, was on hand to educate us about the Maker’s Mark products and Beth Burrows from Beam Suntory was there to preach the Beam gospel. After a quick tutorial on the “Kentucky Chew” and “Kentucky Hug”, we began the tasting and food adventure.
The bourbons we tasted were classic, household bourbons. Tasting classic bourbons was genius, due to the familiarity with their flavor profiles. Tasting familiar bourbon allowed us to focus on the flavor impact of the food. The bourbon lineup was tasted in order of proof starting with a lower proof and moving forward. We tried some wild food combinations including coconut balls, donut pork sliders, 5 spice apples and country ham! Each bourbon paired with a specific food item in order to highlight a particular aspect of the bourbon. In addition to the tasting menu, there was dark chocolate, milk chocolate, pecans, almonds, and dried cherries to freestyle taste.
Each food item created a unique tasting experience with the bourbon. For example, the coconut ball brought out this intense creaminess in the Basil Hayden’s. The brie pecan caramel mix increased the spice of the Old Grandad and the 5 spice apples made the Maker’s Mark Cask Strength buttery and lush. The most surprising combo to me was the standard Maker’s Mark combined with milk chocolate and an orange peel. The milk chocolate extended the finish of the Maker’s Mark, while simultaneously mellowing out the sweetness.
Here are the highlights of my tasting notes:
- Basil Hayden’s / Coconut Ball: The coconut ball brought out the creaminess of the bourbon. It also amped up the spice in the front of my mouth.
- Maker’s 46 / Donut Pork Sliders: The sweetness of the donut really smoothed out the spice in the bourbon. I think the bourbon also made the pork taste more savory and intense.
- Old Grandad BIB / Brie topped with Caramel Pecan Mixture: Old Granddad is a flavor explosion on the front of my mouth and the brie tempered that, but also enhanced the pepper notes.
- Knob Creek / Cantaloupe & Prosciutto: The prosciutto cantaloupe pairing was unique in and of itself. The salty, sweet pairing was a beautiful flavor contrast but, with bourbon, it just intensified all of the flavors. I picked up an intensity on both the baking spices and the oak.
- Maker’s Mark / Chocolate & Orange Peel: Extends and intensifies the finish. The combo of both chocolate and the orange peel pulled out an array of baking spices, caramel, and vanilla.
- Jim Beam Black / Country Ham: Emphasized the spice but balances out the sweetness. Brings a real creaminess to the bourbon.
- Maker’s Cask Strength / 5 Spice Apples & White Chocolate: This combination highlighted the toastiness and nuttiness of the bourbon. The white chocolate changed the entire flavor profile. I got a lot of brown sugar, clove and cinnamon!
- Maker’s Private Select / Parmesan Cheese & Orange Peel: This combo created a lush and buttery texture. I got a lot of almond, toast, and creaminess. The viscosity of the bourbon changed with the parmesan!
I had so much fun in this class! I felt like a bourbon and food scientist. It was striking how much the food adjusted the taste of the bourbon. The tasting notes of other audience members was so incredibly intriguing! Ultimately, taste is subjective. But almost everyone loved adding the orange peel to the bourbon. The general consensus was that milk chocolate goes quite well with a ton of different bourbons. There is no exact science on what pairings work, so experimenting seems to be the best was to figure it out! We barely skimmed the myriad of combinations and I’m excited to try more! There is no right or wrong way to pair food and bourbon, so try a little of everything and have fun!