The relationship between Barbecue and Whiskey

Post Whisky

The Pairing between Grill and Whiskey in purity

Everything is born during the reading of Pitmasters, a nice and pleasant book of which I recommend the purchase. When I came across the third chapter, I was very impressed by a short article by Joy Richards in which very naturally she refers to the combination of Whiskey (Whiskey in that case to be honest, that is the American version) with barbecue.

Nothing so shocking to tell the truth, if I think afterwards: the binomial barbecue-whiskey has a fairly established history and has been beaten in many ways. Just think of the Jack Daniels Invitational or the copious use of whiskey in marinades and barbecue sauces or even smoking with whiskey barrel chips. But here we talk about something slightly different: the pairing of barbecue dishes or more generally cooked on the grill, with the tasting of whiskey in purity.

Post Whisky 2

Intrigued, I tried to document myself and it emerged the umpteenth world into the world, a recurring feature in the investigations in the barbecue field. Tasting a glass of whiskey choosing the type and the best style with which to accompany this or that dish, is a doctrine much more consolidated and structured than I could ever have imagined. To generalize too much when talking about pairings is always dangerous and in many ways misleading and the “Cliff Notes” on subjective matters such as taste always takes more effort than it’s worth. Despite this, I tried to extrapolate from all the material found on the net a sort of vademecum, a brief incipit to take the first step towards this experience, in which I tried to identify the macro-areas of matching.

In general we could define the Whiskey as a grain distillate aged in cask. Those who love it especially know how much depending on the chosen cereal and how the production phases are combined you can get very different results, so to classify the combination with the peaty whiskeys for example, without taking into account the great differences that they run between an Island and an Islay or even within this last typology between a Lagavulin and a Bowmore is obviously reductive and in some respects disrespectful, but somewhere has to leave! So we see below the great types of combination between the magical world of barbecue and that of whiskey in purity, most commonly ridden by literature:

Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon WhiskyDescription: It is probably the best known American Whiskey typology. Made from at least 51% corn (but more commonly 70%) and then from rye, wheat and barley malt, takes its name from the homonymous county of Kentucky where it is believed to have been born. The aging of at least 4 years in new barrels previously carbonized inside, gives it its famous spicy connotation with intense aromas of vanilla. The character is soft and enveloping and the color is intense and golden.

Exemples: Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams, Maker’s Mark, Woodford

Pairing: It represents by definition the most usual and celebrated combination with the real American Barbecue. In reality, the most common combinations range over all levels of cooking on the grill. The soft character and the vanilla notes certainly make it very suitable for Ribs and Pulled Pork but also for Baked Beans or spicy dishes, without forgetting all those where cauterization is felt, such as steaks or grilled buttered corn on the cob.

Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee WhiskyDescription: Technically we are still talking about a Bourbon but the Tennesse whiskey is characterized by an additional phase of filtration through 3 meters of maple coal before the passage in cask, which assumes a particular importance for the purpose of our pairing. Compared to the classic Bourbon the color is more amber and in the mouth it is deeper and more enveloping, with more robust, toasted and spicy notes of pepper and wood.

Exemples: Jack Daniels Old n.7, George Dickel

Pairing: The combination with the barbeque in purity is very celebrated on bourbon but seems to work even better with the Tennessee whiskey. In particular, its austere, toasty and woody character, combined with the basic sweetness typical of the style make it particularly suitable to counter all dishes where caramelized fat plays an important role such as the Pork Belly but also the Standing Rib Roast or a Prime Rib.

Scotch Whisky

Scotch WhiskyDescription: By this term we mean by definition scottish whiskey, which is characterized in a distinctive way compared to others, essentially for the important presence of barley malt among the ingredients, for the smoking phase through peat combustion to interrupt the germination at the ideal stadium and for the at least 3 years long (but also commonly 10-15 years) aging in oak barrels in which they had previously rested Sherry or Porto. This particular process gives scotch whisky more or less delicate notes of smoke, with pungent flavors, sometimes almost medicinal or brackish depending on the origin and the producer, to which are added complex and mature nuances deriving from the different aging. The color generally ranges from deep golden to bright amber.

Exemples: Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Macallan, Talisker

Pairing: A very intuitive combination could only be with smoked dishes, even in those characterized by a rich natural smoking, such as hamburgers or sausages. The characteristic flavor generates a really interesting contrast with all the dishes very rich in cheese, also blue or with fifth-quart dishes like chicken livers, or grilled foie gras.

Irish Whiskey

Irish WhiskyDescription: The other area of the world in which the term “whiskey” is used and one of the two original lands together with Scotland of the original whiskey is Ireland. Unlike Scottish producers, Irish producers also use non-malted barley and do not use peat at all, although it is very present in Ireland. The result is richer and wider, combining the softness of malt with the aromas of barley with fruity notes and hints of leather. The color generally turns from pale yellow to gold.

Exemples: Bushmills, Jameson, Tullamore Dew

Pairing: It lends itself very well to contrasting sweet sauces or marinated meats, as well as dishes very rich in butter or with a marked tendency to sweetness as grilled lobsters and crustaceans or brackish and minerals such as oysters. The light sapidity on the finish makes them finally closer to the world of desserts, in particular that of grilled fruit.

Japanese Single Malts

Whisky GiapponeseDescription: They are a bit like the new frontier and the most recent addition to world production. Japanese whiskeys have an evident Scottish imprint from which they were inspired. The base is therefore strongly marked on malted barley and peat. The Japanese torbature, however, is clearly more nuanced and gives the final result a greater balance but above all a strong aromaticity and a complexity of aromas that represent its true distinguishing characteristic. In general, Japanese whiskeys are very elegant and refined, with a color that goes from deep gold to intense amber and very complex and rich notes of licorice, caramel, honey, ginger and tropical fruit and hints of wood and tobacco with a delicate smoked final.

Exemples: White Oak, Yamazaki, Miyagikyo

Pairing: The kindness of Japanese whiskeys and their overflowing aroma make them perfect to not overwhelm the most delicate dishes and on which the notes given by the grill always remain in the background, such as grilled fish or chicken. Even the Japanese whiskeys can be matched well to the desserts on the grill but through combinations in some ways alternative to those of the Irish Whiskey.

I suggest you now to take out all the bottles of whiskey you have at home and start planning your cooking schedule: I have a feeling that you are announcing a very hot spring. What is the first whiskey you would like to start with?

Sources:, Il Mondo del Sommelier (ed. AIS, 2005),
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