A Whisky for Every Taco Style


A Whisky for Every Taco Style

April 19, 2023 –––––– Stephen Beaumont, , , ,

Nowadays, a taco can mean almost anything nestled in a tortilla, from traditional fillings to such multi-cultural variations as butter chicken to even the Doritos Locos Taco from Taco Bell. For Javier Cabral, editor of L.A Taco and associate producer of “Taco Chronicles” however, there are five classics: al pastor, featuring pork carved from a trompo, or rotating vertical spit; carne asada, with marinated flank steak; barbacoa, made from slow-cooked lamb or beef; what he calls the “crunchy taco,” a hard shell filled with meat and various toppings; and pescado, or fish, usually deep-fried but sometimes sautéed.

When it comes to toppings, Cabral notes that they vary by region in Mexico, but at their most elemental include onion, cilantro, red or green salsa, lime, and sometimes guacamole. Here were my choices:

My pescado tacos contained perfectly sautéed fish and so they were well-suited for a Highland malt with a fruity-spicy character to complement the relatively delicate flavors contained within the tortillas. When the same fish was deep-fried, I found the taco deserved a slightly bolder accompaniment, which I found in lightly smoky maritime whisky like Jura Superstition.

I chose to have my restaurant-made crunchy tacos filled with cochinita, or Yucatán-style pulled pork, whose aromatic spice accentuated the corn character of the deep-fried tortillas. Unsurprisingly, this approach favored a corn-based whisky, in this case the roasted caramel and spice of Yellowstone Select. Bourbon continued to be the spirit of choice when later paired with store-bought hard taco shells, a richer style when they contained steak and jalapeño, lighter for fish and pico de gallo.

The pork in my al pastor tacos was well-browned from its time on the trompo, which accentuated its spicing and had me reaching for something a bit refreshing. In a nod to the bright sweetness of the pineapple that traditionally accompanies these tacos, I opted for a whisky that was sweet without being overly rich, eventually settling on Powers Three Swallows, a honey-ish single pot still Irish whiskey with commendable balance.

Lightness was also on my mind when I turned my attention to the carne asada tacos, since alongside the meatiness of the steak was a fair amount of hot pepper. While I might pair the steak alone with a bourbon or medium-weight single malt whisky, the heat made me reach for a blended scotch, with a couple of ice cubes added for a near-perfect match.

Completing my tasting was by far the richest of the tacos, barbacoa filled with juicy slow-cooked lamb. One bite was enough to convince me of the need for a big and round bourbon or straight rye, with the former proving to be the superior match, particularly so when the taco is topped with chunky guacamole.


Pescador (sautéed fish) with Aberfeldy 12 year old scotch single malt:
The gentle fruitiness of the whisky accentuates rather than subjugates the light and fresh flavor of the fish.

Carne Asada with Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth blended scotch on ice: With its rum cask-derived sweetness, the whisky matches the meatiness of the taco while the ice softens the heat.

Barbacoa (lamb) with Angel’s Envy bourbon: Big-bodied bourbon meets tender and tasty lamb in a textbook partnership of heavyweight flavors.

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