"A stressful day."

That was the answer I got from one whiskey representative at last week's American Whiskey Convention in Philadelphia when I asked what would be a good pairing for bourbon.

It was a great answer, but not exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to find out what people in the whiskey business eat when they've poured a glass of their favorite whiskey. Whiskey, like other strong spirits, will stimulate the palate. The palate will want a food equally as flavorful and strong to complement the flavor bomb that passed over the tongue.

Overwhelmingly, fatty meats, often in a barbecue sauce, came out as the No. 1 answer I got to my question, but some of the people I talked to got a little more specific.

grilled-steakWhiskey can pair well with a grilled steak. (Photo: Tom Brady/flickr)

To pair with Knob Creek, representative Mike O'Brien said, "You don't want anything too complex." He suggested a simple grilled steak, one that's not too lean.

"Pork and barbecue sauce," said Dan Lefever representing Jefferson's. "The sweet and savory of barbecue play well with the sweet and savory of bourbon."

dark-chocolate-torteA rich, dark chocolate torte served with a cask-strength bourbon can pair well. (Photo: takaokun/flickr)

Paul Gardner who was representing Maker's Mark recommended barbecue, perhaps short braised ribs or pork belly for the company's signature bourbon. If serving with desert, he suggested pairing Maker's Mark Cask Strength with dark chocolate, maybe in a dark chocolate torte.

These are a few other pairing ideas that I heard throughout the evening.

  • Southern style fried cutlets
  • Salmon steaks
  • Chicken thighs
  • Buttered popcorn
  • Baked apples

When you're pairing whiskey, particularly bourbon, with food, it seems this is what you should keep in mind: Choose flavorful, fatty meats that will hold up to the flavors of the bourbon. When drinking whiskey with dessert, go with something with decadent dark chocolate or something that will mimic the flavors in the bourbon like caramel, butter and apples.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

What to pair with bourbon
Representatives from American whiskey brands give their recommendations on pairing whiskey with food.