Bourbon and barbecue are a match made in heaven.
Not only do some barbecue sauce recipes call for a bit of bourbon, but the two complement each other perfectly. Barbecue loves the bold and complex notes that bourbon brings to the table. Sipping a glass of bourbon while licking the sticky, sweet sauce off your fingers is a great way to round out your meal.
However, the type of bourbon you drink can greatly affect your palate. Different types of bourbon can hit various taste buds on your tongue based on their characteristics and what’s contained in the mash bill—the mix of grains used to make bourbon.
There are two main types of bourbon: high-wheat and high-rye bourbon. Both pair wonderfully with barbecue, but you just might want to choose your bourbon wisely.
What Is Bourbon?
Before we jump into the differences, let’s first define what is considered bourbon (as opposed to just regular whiskey). According to Epicurious, “federal standards, issued by Congress in 1964, stipulate that bourbon must be a grain mixture made of at least 51 percent corn, produced in the United States, and distilled to no more than 160 proof, with nothing other than water added to the mixture (aside from yeast). It must also be aged in new, charred-oak barrels, among other requirements.” That is to say, if the mash bill isn’t at least 51 percent corn or it’s not aged in charred oak, then it’d be considered whiskey, not bourbon.
What Is High-Rye Bourbon?
According to VinePair, a bourbon with a mash bill containing 20-to-35 percent rye is considered to be a high-rye bourbon.
This concentration of rye gives the bourbon a bolder and spicier flavor.
Examples of high-rye bourbon include Four Roses Single Barrel (which currently has the highest rye count, according to VinePair), Bulleit, Jim Beam Basil Hayden and Old Grand Dad.
The best barbecue to pair with high-rye bourbon: You never want your bourbon and your barbecue to compete with each other. If you’re eating barbecue sauce with spicy or complex notes, steer clear of high-rye bourbons. But if your barbecue falls on the sweet and tangy side, you can feel free to experiment with high-rye.
What Is High-Wheat Bourbon?
High-wheat bourbon has a higher percentage of wheat in the mash bill. This bourbon is often smoother, with a milder flavor. According to VinePair, “Wheat tends to impart earthy, grainier notes to the whiskey.”
High-wheat bourbons include Pappy Van Winkle, Maker’s Mark, Journeyman Wheat, Barton 1792 Distillery and Redemption Wheated Bourbon, among others.
The best barbecue to pair with high-wheat bourbon: You can feel free to get crazy with barbecue when it comes to high-wheat bourbon. Since high-wheat has a milder flavor, you can pair with spicy barbecue sauces and sauces with bolder flavors.