Wade Cothran | Aug 06, 2020

The Best Barbecue and Whiskey Pairings for Summer Cookouts

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No matter if you’re the kind of barbecue fan who likes to keep their cook-outs relatively low key, with just a simple grill in the back yard or a grill set up on the beach with your friends, or someone who loves to go all-out with mouthwatering setups and a mountain of beautiful dishes…we can all agree that food just tastes better cooked over glowing coals. It’s the simplest, heartiest, and most satisfying type of cooking, which involves getting back to basics, utilizing simple ingredients, and allowing the flavors to speak for themselves. 

Whiskey fans will be happy to hear, too, that it’s also the kind of food that lends itself perfectly to our favorite spirit. Whiskey and food pairing is often presented as a fairly complex artform - one which requires years of study and a finely-tuned and developed palate. Now, there’s some truth in this… but at its essence, it’s actually quite straightforward. Whiskey might feature a wide array of different flavors and profiles, but when you get down to it, there’s not much difficulty in identifying those key tasting notes (be they fruity, sweet, spicy, peaty, etc) and matching them to the uncomplicated, unpretentious, and direct kinds of dishes that suit being charred over a hot grill. 

As ever, we’re always eager to provide the best ideas when it comes to whiskey and food pairing, and this week, we’re showing off five groups of barbecue dishes and letting you know the types of whiskeys they match up with most successfully. From here, it’s up to you - feel free to experiment and seek out the pairings that best match your preferences. Now, it’s time to close your eyes and imagine you feel the sun beating down on your back. Your favorite meats are smoking away on the grill, and there’s a perfectly poured Brumate glass of whiskey in your hand…life really doesn’t get much better!

Whiskey and Food Pairings

Barbecue Fish and Whisky Pairing

Fish is often overlooked as the perfect barbecue food, regularly playing second fiddle to steaks, sausages, and burgers. However, for our money, there are few things more satisfying than whole fish charred and blackened over coals, or shellfish lightly cooked on a grill. It’s the kind of food that’s as satisfying as it is laid-back and easy to cook - barbecued fish is ready in a matter of minutes when cooked over coals, and we reckon it’s possibly the best way to cook and eat this particular food group. 

What’s more, the salty, delicate, or umami flavors of fish and shellfish are the perfect pairing for certain kinds of whiskey, especially when you factor in the distinctive smokiness that your barbecue is going to provide. It all comes down to that subtle hit of salinity you get from fresh and delicious fish and the cleanliness of the flavor profile… the perfect whiskey pairing food, ideal for a sunny day, and sharing with friends! Have a crack at the following pairing recommendations, and you’ll see straight away what we’re talking about. 

Barbecued Shellfish and Islay Scotch Whisky

Here’s a match that’s made in flavor heaven, without a shadow of a doubt. Toss a good handful of clams or scrubbed mussels on your barbecue, and watch them steam in their own juices before opening and revealing the sweet, tender meat inside. That punch of sea air works brilliantly with the delicately saline and smoky quality of a decent Islay single malt - and if you want a real taste sensation, splash a little bit of Laphroaig onto a freshly opened oyster…it’s fantastic!

Salmon, Tuna, or White Fish and Whisky

When it comes to other types of fish, you want a nice, clean tasting whiskey with a fine balance of sweetness and salinity for your barbecue pairing. Dalwhinnie and Glenkinchie, or any of the quality Lowland Single Malts, will be especially good with your griddled or charred fish dishes, served with a crisp salad and some crusty bread. 

Sausages, Bacon, and Fine Whisky

Let’s face it, a barbecue isn’t a barbecue without a string of decent butcher’s sausages sizzling away over the coals. They’re always a big hit at any cookout, and furthermore, they never fail to pack a proper punch of flavor that just sings a perfect tune when nicely charred and properly cooked. Bacon, too, definitely up there on the list of barbecue must-haves, and provides that perfect salty, smoky sweetness that never fails to put a smile on everyone’s faces! What’s more, both pair beautifully with a range of different quality whiskeys. 

If you’re on the lookout for the perfect sausage and bacon whiskey pairing, your best bet is to opt for a bottle that has a bit of oomph to it - not so much that it overpowers the subtleties of the meat and spices, but enough to stand up to that deeply savory flavor profile. We reckon it’s a good idea to opt for a whiskey that possesses a bit of peatiness, but which doesn’t set off a smoke bomb in your mouth…so again, we’d be heading to Islay or Orkney and going for a glass of Bruichladdich, or something very similar. 

Man Grilling - Barbecue and Whiskey Pairings

Pairing Whisky with Barbecued Game

Barbecues are really all about getting back to basics, and bringing out your inner caveman when it comes to cooking for friends and family. What could be better than a big chunk of game meat? Venison and boar are perfect for barbecuing, as their strong, deep, and iron-rich flavor works wonders with the smoke coming off your grill. They also possess lots of subtle notes and hints of sweetness, too - no wonder they’re often considered the ideal pairing for whiskey!

When it comes to matching up whiskey with the barbecued game, we always reach for a bottle which balances smoke with sweetness, or which brings a peppery spice to a sweeter body. The obvious choices here would be a small-batch rye whiskey (definitely the trendier choice for your barbecue drinking), or something like Baillie Nicol Jarvie, which displays a real mastery of balance and blending. 


Pairing Whisky with Steak and Chops

Now we’re talking! When it comes to authentic alpha-male barbecue cooking, there’s really nothing else that gets the muscles flexed and the testosterone flowing like chucking a slab of prime steak or a bunch of pork chops over the coals. This type of meat loves being paired with fruitier whiskeys; think of your drink as a kind of stand-in for a rich berry sauce, and you should be on the right track.

When seeking out a fruity whiskey, there are many different routes you could go down. The best of the best for really quality cuts of meat? Those which have been long matured in Sherry or Port casks, and which have picked up all that depth of spice and fruit that’s been ingrained in the wood. The Macallan is probably the champion as regards Sherry-aged whiskey, providing the ideal dram for ribeye and sirloin steaks, as well as blackened pork chops. 

Barbecue and Steak Pairing

Pulled Pork and Whisky

We absolutely love pulled pork - it’s the ultimate sandwich filling and brings together a whole bunch of our favorite flavors in every mouthful. 

While most of the other recommendations on this list have definitely leaned towards Scotch (which is never a bad call when it comes to food and whiskey pairing), pulled pork is always going to be associated with trendy US-style barbecues. As such, what could be a more fitting pairing than a glass of bourbon whiskey over ice?

The deep, sweet, and spicy kick of quality pulled pork makes it an absolute champ when paired with authentic Kentucky or Tennessee bourbon - we’re talking Buffalo Trace, Stagg Jr, or any bottles with a real sense of tradition and history behind them. It’s hard to imagine a better combination for kicking back in the yard, surrounded by your mates, lively conversation, some good music on the stereo, and all the sunshine you could wish for!


Pairing Burgers with Whisky

No blog about barbecued meat and whiskey pairing would be anywhere near complete without some mention of the humble-yet-spectacular beef burger. Now, we’re not talking about the greyish pucks of meat you buy frozen from your local supermarket. We’re referring to hearty, homemade, hand-shaped, and rough-hewn burgers peppered with spices and herbs, and tossed on the grill until oozing oils and developing a delicious blackened crust. 

This kind of quality burger, when served simply in a bun, is going to be the perfect match for another bottle of decent bourbon - something like Four Roses is going to do the trick nicely. However, if like us, you enjoy a slab of strong blue cheese melted over your beef burger, you can step things up a bit by pairing with a powerfully peated whiskey (as this kind of smoky, earthy drink loves being matched with gorgonzola or crumbly stilton). Talisker or Lagavulin would be the obvious choices here, but there’s no necessity to be so specific. 

Don’t Forget Your Whiskey Glass

There you have it - the ultimate guide to barbecue and whiskey pairing, ideal for your next gathering in the summertime! There’s only one thing that could make this combo more perfect… and that’s the inclusion of a beautiful set of Brumate whiskey glasses, perfectly engineered to keep your whiskey in tip-top condition and at the ideal temperature to take those flavors to the next level!

BruMate Whiskey Nosing Glass