Whiskey and barbecue were literally made for one another. Not only is the golden, Southern dram used in traditional barbeque marinades and sauces—it’s the only spirit worthy of complementing a hefty, smoky slab of meaty goodness. While bourbon may be the obvious choice for barbeque (and all its accoutrements), different whiskies from around the world have their own equally delicious (if not better) flavor to contribute to the cuisine. Scotch whiskies, for example, are great for highlighting the earthy-charcoal flavors in smoked meats, while light, refreshing Japanese single malts pair perfectly with grilled vegetables and fish. Whatever you plan on grilling, here are five essential whiskies to pair with your favorite fire-cooked meal.
This classic Tennessee bourbon was made to be sipped neat with a huge, fatty cut of barbequed meat. With a subtle charred oak flavor and notes of vanilla and honeycomb on the palate, the whiskey mirrors flavors found in rubs and sauces used to make the best barbeque. When paired with fattier cuts like prime rib or pork belly, the spirit’s sour acidity from the corn mash cuts through the heavy swaths of caramelized fat.
A delicious, overproof bourbon is as important to barbeque as wet naps and a plastic bib. This Kentucky bourbon is bottled at a whopping 101 proof, and it’s bright corn flavors and boozy heat are best matched with messy, BBQ sauce-laden beef ribs, pulled pork sandwiches with Tabasco, beans baked with bacon, and piquant, vinegary coleslaws. If you really want to treat yourself, pour a hefty glass of Wild Turkey over a fat cube of ice, and drink it slowly between bites of barbeque and nips of charcoal-roasted corn on the cob, slathered in butter. It’s a match made in Heaven.
Truly as smooth as a pig’s nose, this blended Scotch mixes spirits from Islay, Speyside and the Lowlands. With wafts of peat smoke, the earthen char of a barbeque-pit, and subtle salinity, Pig’s Nose is a wonderful accompaniment to smoked meats, fatty cuts of pork (like chops, the cheeks, ears or belly), sausages, and charred burgers from the grill. The whisky’s distinct savoriness cuts through gooey melted cheeses like American or bleu, and does wonders to highlight the pungent, primal-funk of barbequed offal meats like chicken livers or lamb’s tongue.
This is the kind of whisky to drink with barbeque when you want a spirit that doesn’t overshadow the flavors of your food or solely dominate your palate. The Japanese spirit is delicate, soft and slightly honeyed, with a graceful smokiness on the finish. Its subtle maltiness and citrus flavors pair perfectly with lighter barbecued fare like grilled whole mackerel, smoked trout, grilled fruit (like plums or tomatoes), or a whole-roasted chicken. If you were to have a beach cookout over an open fire, this is the first whisky you’d want in your glass to drink with the meal.
Light and slightly sweet, with a backbone of acidity from its time aged in ex-sherry casks, this Single Malt Irish whiskey is an excellent spirit for barbecue. A perfect accompaniment to sweeter sauces and marinades, Knappogue whiskey also pairs well with butter-soaked seafood like lobster, shrimp, and barbecued shellfish, like oysters casino on the grill. The spirits subtle salinity and notes of toasted marshmallow work well with fire-roasted desserts like s’mores and grilled peaches. Or you can just sip it straight as the capstone to your meat-centric, belt-loosening meal.