Tasting your way across Kentucky, the American South, and the myriad of extant bourbon distilleries? You shouldn’t do it on an empty stomach.
Including snacks alongside your bourbon tasting help to pad your stomach against the high-proof heat. Also, though, it adds a whole new layer of tasting notes and textures that you may have otherwise missed.
Let’s look at some of the best finger foods you can use to enhance any bourbon tasting.
What do you need for a bourbon tasting to go smoothly? Bourbon, of course. But without something to eat, it will quickly become quite challenging to taste any nuance in the bourbon. If your stomach is empty, even small tastes can intoxicate you. And even if you spit them out! Lucky for us, there are some simple, cheap, and tasty snacks that go wonderfully alongside American Whiskey.
These snacks work on a few different levels. We don’t eat them solely to avoid getting drunk, (though it certainly helps slow down that bourbon headiness). Our bourbon-paired snacks do a couple of other things as well.
First, certain foods can help to cleanse the palate in between sips. Chewing on something with a neutral flavor, a good crunch, and a bit of salt brings fresh saliva to the tongue and some moisture back to the mouth. This allows our taste buds to work better, which is the whole point of a tasting, isn’t it?
Secondly, foods that have fat, tannins or sugar can bring out additional flavors, allowing them to bloom and open up in some interesting ways. Chocolate becomes deeper and richer. Cheese becomes creamier and sweeter. Fruit explodes.
So, that being said, let’s take a look at the snacks that we think work best for bourbon tasting.
Crackers or crisps are something that you should have on hand if you plan on tasting multiple spirits. Saltines, oyster crackers, plain Goldfish crackers, or Ritz all work great for what we are trying to accomplish. We’re looking for a crispy, crunchy snack that doesn’t have a strong flavor and doesn’t have a heaping helping of salt in every bite.
A little bit of crunch combined with some saltiness will help to erase the remnants of a sip of Bourbon. Without something to cleanse the palate, you’ll quickly find that every bourbon starts to taste the same. In order to open up those taste buds to each new flavor note or different levels of heat, oak, or smoke, you’re going to need a palate cleanser.
Okay, so water isn’t a snack...but hear us out. Water is an essential part of your bourbon tasting accoutrements that should be available for you and your tasting buddies.
Water not only helps to cleanse the palate and wash down all those oyster crackers, but it is also crucial for opening up and balancing certain whiskeys. For a bourbon that is exceptionally hot with a high proof, a few drops of water can soften up those harsh edges to better taste that spirit.
Plus, you can never have too much water on hand whenever drinking hard alcohol is involved. Alongside your snacks, water will be your champion when you want to slow the effects of intoxication.
Dried fruit is one of the best snacks to enjoy with any glass of bourbon, whether you’re tasting or slow sipping. The depths of sugary, syrupy fructose concentrations in small pieces of dried cherries, apricots, mangos, or cranberries can help you find the fruity notes in bourbon.
Stagg Jr. Kentucky Bourbon is chock-full of silky dark cherry notes that, when combined with a bit of dried fruit, explode as if you were sipping cherry cola. Using the fruit sugars to bring out and bloom different flavors in different bourbons is well worth the small investment in this snack. It should definitely be one of the first things you grab as you prepare your bourbon tasting snacks.
Some of our favorite dried fruit options are:
Any dried fruit with a good chewiness adds a dark sweetness that pairs well with most bourbons. But, of course, experimentation is one of the most fun parts of tasting, so you don’t have to stick to what we recommend.
There’s a reason that nuts have long been a staple on many bar tops. The salt, the fat, and the smooth umami of nuts make drinks go down better and faster (while also helping to defend the bar patrons from getting too sauced).
While bourbon doesn’t usually need it, a good handful of salty nuts can help to mellow out some flavors. The fat in nuts can also help to smooth out an incredibly tannic whiskey. Nuts work well on all fronts as a snack to go along with any type of drink, whether it be beer, wine, or Kentucky bourbon.
Go for nuts that are lightly salted. Like our crackers, we want the flavors to play well with others, not overpower them or coat your mouth with so much salt that you can no longer differentiate between flavors.
When most of us think of wine tasting, meat and cheese go hand in hand in our minds. Good news! This duo works just as well with bourbon. Not only are you getting something a bit more substantial with a good meat and cheese board, but you can add layer after layer of complexity to the tasting with just a few cheese and meat selections.
Some of our favorites to pair with the best bourbons are soft, gooey brie, smoked gouda, and a bit of aged, white cheddar. A little bit of funk never hurt, either, so don’t be afraid to try some stronger fromage. There is no limit to what cheeses you can pair. Over at bourbonveach.com, they have a great article about cheese and bourbon pairing, so check that out for some ideas.
For the meat, go for smoke, umami, and salt. Thick cuts of pepperoni or thin slices of smoked ham are perfect. Our only word of caution is not to purchase meats that are too spicy. A little bit of heat is good, but too much spice can intensify an already hot whiskey and become like fire on the palate—just a word to the wise.
Just like with wine, chocolate can bring out some genuinely sumptuous flavors in bourbon as well. Milk, white, and dark chocolate all bring out different notes and finishes. Don’t shy away from some fruit flavors or truffles, either.
With chocolate, there aren’t going to be too many flavors that get in the way of tasting. Be warned, though, it can be pretty easy to go a little overboard when that chocolate-bourbon combo is hitting just right.
Do Bourbon Tasting Right
So, for our list of bourbon tasting snacks, we’ve got…
You should be able to put together a great bourbon tasting with just a couple of these ideas. As long as you’ve got a few exciting bourbons to try, a palate cleanser in between sips, and some snacks that will complement and enhance the spirit’s flavors, you’re going to have a good time. And it can never hurt to order some pizza when you are rounding out the last bourbon selection. You do want everyone involved to be able to get home safely at some point.
Here’s our favorite quick tasting snack grab: a log of Truffled Boar Salami, Triple Cream Brie, and a bowl of oyster crackers.
Have you tried anything that you think the world needs to know about? What are some of your favorite bourbon tasting snacks?