In Pour This, Pair That, Whisky Advocate asks professional chefs to share a recipe designed for a specific type of whisky. Learn why these food and whisky combinations work—and try them yourself at home!
High-proof bourbon has seen its stock rise in recent years. As whiskey lovers search for ever more powerful expressions of their favorite distillers’ visions, these robust, rich bottlings have come to exemplify the art of bourbon production. And alongside appropriately full-bodied dishes, all those layers of flavor and aroma packed into the high alcohol content really have a chance to shine.
“The reason for fatty food with high proof bourbons and ryes is the same reason for wines with big tannins,” explains Clayton Rollison, chef and owner of Lucky Rooster in Hilton Head Island, SC. “We need something to stand up to the heat of the proof. High-proof bourbons have bolder flavor profiles as well, since they are not cut when they come out the barrel.” Alongside a dish like pimento cheese (recipe below), he points out, “the richness of the cheese doesn’t get lost.”
Pour This, Pair That: High-Proof Bourbon & Pimento Cheese
Pour: High-proof bourbon
Tastes like: Time spent maturing in new charred American oak typically lends sweet notes like vanilla and caramel. When bourbon is bottled at high proof—in other words, without being diluted down to a more approachable level of alcohol—it takes on an assertive mouthfeel and big, bold spice flavors.
Five to try: Wild Turkey 101 (50.5%, 86 points), Maker’s Mark Cask Strength (56.6%, 93 points), Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style (57.5%, 91 points), Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled in Bond 10 year old (50%, 90 points), Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Small Batch (50%, 90 points)
Pair: Pimento cheese
Why it works: In the pantheon of classic Southern dishes, few shine as brightly as pimento cheese. But like so many dishes that are widely known and loved, each variation has to compete with every other iteration that has been enjoyed over the years. As a result, it’s hard to impress with just any ordinary pimento cheese. This recipe, however, stands out from its counterparts for the same reason that so much of the food at Lucky Rooster does: It’s rooted in the classics, yet not weighed down by it. Chef Rollison’s riff eschews cream cheese and instead gains its creamy richness from grated sharp cheddar and Duke’s mayonnaise. Slicing through that decadence is heat from both jalapeños and pickled jalapeño juice, as well as a hit of Tabasco. The result is a dish with enough richness to stand up to the high-proof bourbon, a bit of spice—but not so much that it’ll explode in the presence of all the whiskey’s alcohol—and a balanced enough character that it can be enjoyed on sandwiches or as a dip.
This recipe makes 4-8 servings as a dip or 14-16 servings as a condiment for burgers or sandwiches.
- 1 lb. sharp cheddar, grated
- 3 ½ oz. Duke’s mayonnaise
- 1 oz. pickling liquid from jar of jalapeños
- 1 oz. jalapeños from jar, chopped
- 4 oz. roasted red peppers, chopped
- 2 oz. chives, minced
- 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- ½ Tbsp. Tabasco sauce
If using for dip, combine all ingredients in a mixer for a smooth consistency. If using as a condiment for sandwiches, combine ingredients by hand in a bowl to maintain texture.