Memorial Day weekend is the official start of grilling season and—for many of us—outdoor drinking. While beer is a natural pairing at a cookout, don’t feel the need to set your whisky aside on those long summer days. Many summer grilling staples pair naturally with whisky—just keep the firewater away from the flames, folks! One pro tip: even if you usually drink your whisky neat, consider throwing an ice cube or two into your dram if you’re out on the patio or lawn. It’ll help temper the heat of the season, plus it’s refreshing!
Grilling With Whiskey: What To Drink With Summer Favorites
Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers
Hamburgers and cheeseburgers are the quintessential American grill food. They’re also one of the easiest dishes to pair with whisky. Big, bold flavors match well with juicy grilled meat, so try a high-proof Kentucky specialty like Booker’s Bourbon (91 points for the first 2016 batch, $60) or Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon (82 points, $25). Or go classy with a rich, sherried dram such as The Macallan Double Cask 12 year old (90 points, $65).
Grilled chicken demands a lighter whisky touch to avoid overwhelming the flavor—so it’s a perfect opportunity for single grain whiskies to shine. Subtle, delicate whiskies like Nikka Coffey Grain (92 points, $65) from Japan or Teeling Single Grain (91 points, $45) from Ireland are your best bet here.
If you’re making chicken with some smoked or spicy flavors, consider busting out a light-bodied whisky with just a little smoke, like Talisker 10 year old (90 points, $50). It will bring out some extra nuances from the bird without overwhelming your palate.
Sausages And Hot Dogs
Mmm, fresh preservatives! Cured meats demand a whisky with some salt or brine, which should send you sailing for Scotland. The sea spray of Old Pulteney 12 year old (87 points, around $45) is a fine choice, especially if you happen to be grilling on a boat. The light, delicate fruit and brine flavors in Bunnahabhain 12 year old (89 points, $53) won’t steer you wrong either.
Vegetarians, you are not forgotten. Delicious summertime staples like roast peppers, onions, and corn on the cob have their whisky counterparts as well. An herbal whiskey can augment the green flavors of vegetables. Try Deanston Virgin Oak (82 points, $32) or Knappogue Castle 12 year old (92 points, $42).
Barbecue comes in a huge variety of styles, but it’s actually one of the easier food categories to pair with whiskey. Barbecue is a full-flavored, rich, and fatty cuisine, often topped with complex savory-sweet sauces, making it a natural fit with bourbon. After all, they’re both quintessentially American products—of course they go together!
Stick with the classics. A wheated bourbon like Maker’s Mark (89 points, $25) is a great pairing with lighter barbecue dishes, especially on a hot summer day. For darker meats and heartier fare, consider a bourbon with a traditional mashbill like Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select (89 points, $35). Sweet notes of vanilla, oak and spice will bring out the best in your barbecue.
Ah, steak and whisky—the granddaddy of all pairings. Pairing fine, fresh-grilled red meat with whisky is an art all its own, and deserves its own article. In fact, it’s getting one—the Summer 2017 issue of Whisky Advocate has a story on pairing steak with whisky. Check it out when the issue hits newsstands on June 6th.