10 Sweet Treats That Pair Well With Bourbon And Other Whiskey
The world of American whiskey is a fascinating one. It contains six major types of whiskey, each of which has a specific production process that is regulated by the United States Code of Federal Regulations. Stipulations mostly focus on the type of grain used for production, as well as proof and aging periods. And within American whiskey categories, there are other subcategories. For example, have you heard of bonded whiskey?
The fact is that there are nearly endless ways to make great whiskey across the country. And it’s not just because of the different categories, but also because of the distillers who bring their knowledge and expertise into the process. As a result, American whiskey can boast varied notes that can go from smoky to sweet and balanced to complex, making it an excellent digestif — even better when poured alongside a great dessert.
To find the most delicious and surprising pairings, we enlisted Ariana Ruiz. Not only is Ruiz the Mexican brand ambassador for Brown Forman, representing Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester, but she is also a self-declared dessert lover. Here are her favorite sweet treats, paired with an assortment of American whiskeys and bourbons.
Pecan or pumpkin pie and straight bourbon
American whiskey is defined as "straight" when it complies with a series of certifications. The first one dictates that the whiskey must be distilled from fermented grain to no more than 95% ABV. This liquid must be stored in oak barrels for at least two years and bottled with 40% ABV or higher. Any legally-defined American whiskey, including bourbon, rye, malt, and wheat, can fall under this subcategory, while at the same time complying with the standards set by their own categories. In the case of bourbon, this also means the product has to be made from at least 51% corn, distilled to 80% ABV or less, and stored in new oak barrels at no more than 62.5% ABV.
Straight bourbon, says Ruiz, usually boasts sweet notes of caramel and vanilla that are a natural result of the production process. To be considered straight, a whiskey cannot include any additives. These notes harmonize beautifully with desserts that include dried fruits or nuts, which makes pumpkin and classic pecan pie the ideal companions. In the case of pecan pie, the taste of syrup, vanilla, and pecans makes for a delightfully sweet and crunchy combination that will go great with the bourbon. This pairing sounds perfect for Thanksgiving, but we’re not sure we can wait that long to try it.
Cannoli and malt whiskey
Cannoli are among Italy’s top ambassadors, proudly representing the country’s sweet creations. These fried pastries originated in Sicily sometime around the 10th or 11th century. Traditional recipes call for a ricotta cheese filling with chocolate chips or chopped pistachios, although modern iterations can include other flavored creams in the stuffing, like chocolate or coffee. Ruiz, as a hard-core dessert lover, is thinking of classic, ricotta-filled cannoli for this pairing. "Malt whiskey usually has notes of toasted grain, dried fruit, and spices," she explains, "and soft ricotta will help bring these out."
Malt whiskey is a whiskey that is made with at least 51% malted barley, according to U.S. regulations. The rest of the mash bill can include grains like corn or rye. Scottish regulations, however, dictate that malted barley must make up 100% of the mash bill. As for proof, American malt whiskey has a maximum of 160 proof during the distillation process, and 125 proof during barrel entry. To qualify as single malt whiskey, the liquid must be produced in one single distillery using malted barley and distilled in pot stills.
Dark chocolate cake and bonded whiskey
The requirements for bonded, bottled-in-bond, or BiB whiskey have been around for centuries. In fact, the Bottled-in-Bond Act was signed into law by Congress back in 1897, in response to a request by Kentucky distillers to ensure whiskey has protected from the use of artificial flavors and other low-quality additives. This law is quite strict, stipulating that the spirit must be aged for four years or longer, and bottled at 100 proof, or 50% ABV. A bottled-in-bond whiskey has to be produced during one season at a single distillery by one distiller before being stored in a bonded warehouse.
The resulting liquid is a high-proof whiskey, well-rounded and full-bodied. This powerhouse spirit has to be paired with an equally strong partner: a dark chocolate cake, says Ruiz. With a cocoa percentage of 70 to 85%, dark chocolate boasts rich, earthy flavors — not to mention antioxidants and nutrients like iron and fiber, per Healthline. A dark chocolate cake can stand its ground beside potent bonded whiskey, making for an elegant pairing.
Key lime pie and flavored whiskey
Marie Sonmez Photography/Shutterstock
We know that many flavored spirits get a bad reputation, but there are some delicious examples of flavored whiskey. To produce a flavored whiskey, the distilled spirit made from barley, corn, or rye is infused with additional flavoring. Vanilla, honey, citrus, caramel, and even peanut butter are among the most popular options, adding a twist to this spirit. If you’re feeling like trying a fun pairing, Ruiz recommends choosing a honey or cinnamon-flavored whiskey alongside a slice of key lime pie. "The acidity in this dessert is perfect for balancing with a flavored whiskey," she says.
Key lime pie is Florida’s official pie, and history says it was created in this state, but this iconic dessert’s shocking origins may point back to New York. Whatever the truth is, this creamy delight, with a perfect balance of sweet and tart, makes us think of summer evenings at the beach. Paired with a flavored whiskey, it will surely bring about a tropical feeling, even when tasted at home.
Apple galette and wheat-based whiskey
This beautiful, French-born dessert boasts a buttery crust and a lovely, rustic look. The galette’s history can be traced back to Norman times when it was called gale, which translates as flat cake. Galettes can be filled with all sorts of thinly sliced ingredients, from vegetables and cheese to fruits that caramelize in the oven. Several fruits make excellent galette fillings, from apples to berries or peaches. However, for this specific pairing, Ruiz recommends a galette with plenty of sweet apples or pears. "These are some of the most floral fruits, which makes them pair very well with wheat-based whiskey, as it usually has floral notes, too," she explains.
Just like the name suggests, wheat whiskey must be made from 51% wheat or higher. This means that it can contain up to 100% wheat. At distillation, it must not exceed 160 proof (or 80% ABV), nor 125 proof (62.5% ABV) at barrel entry. Aging should happen in charred oak barrels, and at the time of bottling, the liquid must be at 80 proof (40% ABV) or higher. Most wheat whiskey production takes place in the United States.
Berry cobbler and sour mash
Contrary to what the name might make you think, sour mash doesn’t equal a sour whiskey (that doesn’t sound too good, actually). Mash is the mix of grain, yeast, and water that is the base of whiskey. Mash is fermented to produce alcohol, and if too much bacteria grows during fermentation, it will affect the results. As such, the term sour mash refers to a production process used to regulate bacterial growth, ensuring the quality of the final product. To lower the pH in the mash, distillers add an acidic substance called spent mash, stillage, or backset left over from their previous batch of mash. Most Tennessee whiskey and bourbon producers use the sour mash process, but not all of them are actually categorized as sour mash.
Because of the fermentation process, says Ruiz, sour mash whiskey boasts notes of smoked fruit. "This flavor makes for a perfect combination when paired with berry-based desserts," she explains. Sweet, tangy berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries are a foolproof ingredient when baking a delicious Southern cobbler. This dessert is a summertime classic that brings the fruit together with a sweet crust and is even better when topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Quince paste with cheese (ate con queso) and blended whiskey
Quince, also known as membrillo, is a small fruit that packs a sour, tannic flavor. According to history, this fruit’s origins can be traced back to the Caucasus region and northern Persia. Eventually, quince trees made their way to Spain and later the Americas, where the round, yellow fruit gained popularity. One of its most traditional uses is quince paste, a rich jelly made with quince and sugar, bringing some sweetness to this sometimes tough fruit.
In Spanish and many places in Latin America, slices of quince paste and Manchego cheese are served as dessert, providing a delicious contrast of textures and flavors, thanks to the cheese’s savory, creamy profile. This dessert, says Ruiz, goes great with a blended whiskey. "Its blend of sweet-and-savory is a great companion for blended whiskey, which also features different notes that depend on the whiskeys used for the blend."
Blended whiskey is produced by combining different whiskeys, and can include a few subcategories. Blended grain whiskey is a combination of single grain whiskeys from two or more distilleries; blended malt whiskey is a combination of single malts from two or more distilleries; and blended whiskey is a combination of malt and grain whiskeys. These combinations mean that blended whiskey can boast complex, rich flavors, thanks to the different profiles that go into its production.
S’mores and rye
As with other categories, rye whiskey falls under a set of regulations in the United States. Rye whiskey must be made with at least 51% rye grain (the remaining 49% can include other grains), and cannot exceed 80% ABV (160 proof) after distillation. At the moment of barrel entry, rye whiskey must be proofed at 62.5% (125 proof) or lower. Rye whiskey must be stored in new charred oak barrels for at least two years, and can’t be blended with other spirits during the aging process. The resulting liquid brings a spicy kick and usually boasts a dry finish. This particular trait makes it match wonderfully with s’mores. "The dry finish creates a perfect contrast with the combination of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate," Ruiz says.
A summer camp favorite, s’mores bring sweetness, crunch, and a good dose of nostalgia. Whether you are planning a camping trip or you want to roast the marshmallows in the comfort of your kitchen, we can guarantee something: enjoying a childhood treat with a grown-up glass of rye means having the best of both worlds.
Chocolate chip cookies and double oak whiskey
We always love a pairing that brings a high-end and a popular element together, and this particular one does exactly that. The universally-loved chocolate chip cookie, a treat we usually enjoy with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk, is the first half of this equation. From soft, chewy cookies, to perhaps crunchier versions; from store-bought to homemade; from classic versions packed with sweet chips to recipes that call for dark chocolate, it’s hard to go wrong with this comforting treat. According to Ruiz, the buttery, sweet flavor of a great chocolate chip cookie will round out the profile of a double oak whiskey, as it offers an interesting combination of notes, such as caramel or chocolate.
As you may have guessed from the name, double oak whiskey goes through the barrel twice. Since oak barrels are responsible for many of the most intriguing notes that we’ll find on a whiskey, involving two barrels in the process can only increase the spirit’s complexity and depth. This very versatile category includes double oak rye and double oak bourbon and allows for the use of different barrels. Some brands use sherry oak or port wine barrels that open up more possibilities for aromas and flavors.
Banana pudding and Tennessee whiskey
There’s much more than location when we talk about Tennessee whiskey. Yes, the whiskey must be distilled within the state, according to a law that has been in effect for a decade. However, there are other stipulations. First, the whiskey must be made with at least 51% corn and must go through the Lincoln County process. This means that the spirit is filtered through charcoal before making it to the barrel for aging. In this stage, the law calls for new charred oak barrels.
"Tennessee whiskey is usually very balanced due to the carbon-filtering in its production process," says Ruiz. "This makes it perfect for pairing with a flavor as specific as banana, as neither element will overpower the other."
Enter the beloved banana pudding. This dessert is popular, easy to make, and an ideal way to showcase the sweetness and creaminess of bananas. Classic recipes call for just a few ingredients, including pudding mix, milk, and wafer cookies. And since banana pudding is a great treat all year long, the possibilities here are endless. Enjoy this pairing during a chilly winter evening when you need a comforting treat, or at an outdoor party in the summer. Success is guaranteed.