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10 Best Bourbon And Chocolate Pairings, According To A Spirits Expert

chocolate styles and bourbon
chocolate styles and bourbon - Static Media / Shutterstock

A great pairing is like a wedding. The qualities that a couple share can often be what binds them. Also, a splash of booze and a cheeky bit of chocolate can be part of the fun.

Throughout its production, bourbon gains flavors, aromas, and texture from the various production stages. The proportions of grains in a mash bill, the strain of yeast that ferments it, the type of oak, and the duration of the aging all impart characteristics that make no two bourbons identical. Some taste like rich caramel or vanilla, or even fruit or nuts. This makes chocolate a great pairing, equally compatible with all the most common tasting notes for bourbon.

But, with all great pairings, selection is key and some marriages are stronger than others. Chocolate in its purest form brings a lot to the table, including fat, sweetness, and roasty richness, and can be equally as diverse as bourbons. By carefully matching bourbons with chocolate that contrasts, complements, or cuts through, a good pairing becomes greater than the sum of its parts. As a brand ambassador and marketer, I trained staff and customers in matching food with spirits and designed pairing menus for a cruise ship, and in my opinion, the bourbon and chocolate combo is one of my favorite journeys to take.

Read more: 25 Chocolate Brands, Ranked Worst To Best

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon And Orange Chocolate

woodford reserve and chocolate orange
woodford reserve and chocolate orange - woodfordreserve / Instagram and Mrkornflakes/Getty Images

Woodford Reserve's Kentucky Straight Bourbon is rich and complex, reflecting notes of orange and cocoa, which makes it a perfect match for chocolate with an orange flair. Woodford Reserve is a delectable pairing whether you prefer commercial chocolate with an orange extract flavor or a boutique bar with actual orange rind, candied orange, or pieces of fruit.

This bourbon carries a hefty profile, which is important when paired against the distinctive chocolate-orange combination. The extra weight, silkiness, and 90.4 proof strength of Woodford's flagship bourbon stops it from being overwhelmed by the citrus, cocoa, sugar, and fat in the chocolate itself. Deep baking spice notes like cinnamon play off lighter vanilla and caramel derived from the bourbon's barrel aging. These all complement orange chocolate to create a cohesive and harmonious combination.

Flavoring chocolate with orange is controversial, but this match-up works because of the contrast between the chocolate's weight and the lightness of the orange. Luckily for fans, this duality is also present in Woodford Reserve's Kentucky Straight Bourbon. In concert with orange chocolate, this bourbon holds its own while highlighting the zippy citrus in both itself and the chocolate. There's a reason why classic bourbon-friendly cocktails such as the old fashioned call for an orange garnish.

Angel's Envy Port Finish And Cherry Chocolate

angel's envy cherry chocolate
angel's envy cherry chocolate - Angel's Envy and irina02/Shutterstock

With many of the best cherry whiskeys being bourbons, we know these two are a winning combination, but how does chocolate fit into this picture? Well, with the right bourbon, such as Angel's Envy Port Finish, a combination of cherry and chocolate is a pleasing endeavor. While maturing, Angel's Envy bourbons need to rest in new charred oak barrels for at least two years to be called a straight bourbon whiskey. The aging journey doesn't necessarily end there, and an extra step can help imbue these bourbons with additional flavors in a process called "finishing".

Angel's Envy spends its formative adolescence of four-to-six years in new American white oak casks before graduating to Portuguese ex-port wine casks, where it gets a finishing education for as long as six months. During this process, notes of red fruit, berries, and jam infuse the spirit forming an ambrosial bridge between the spirit and cherry in chocolate.

Aromas of nuts, vanilla, and raisins in Angel's Envy are also a welcome friend of chocolate. This bourbon comprises 18% rye, where it gets a subtle touch of spice. While not enough to be prominent in the bourbon, this spicey hint goes wonderfully with cherries. To round it all out, Angel's Envy Port Finish has subtle cocoa notes that make matching with most chocolate easy to enjoy. This type of chocolate simply puts the cherry on top.

Old Elk Straight Wheated Bourbon And Almond Chocolate

old elk bourbon chocolate almond
old elk bourbon chocolate almond - Old Elk and Kathydewar/Getty Images

Old Elk Straight Wheated Bourbon leads us to a unique variety of the spirit and one that matches particularly well with nuts such as almonds. One of the defining factors of bourbon whiskey is that the mash bill is to be at least 51% corn. The rest of the bourbon's makeup is the distiller's choice, which in the case of Old Elk, means opportunity. Corn in Old Elk's grain lineup is kept no higher than necessary to qualify as a straight bourbon whiskey, while a whopping 45% is used to flaunt the aromas and flavors introduced by a lesser-used grain -- wheat.

Once fermented and distilled, wheat introduces subtle flavors like banana, caramel, and tropical notes like pineapple. While other match-ups on this list seek to pair equally powerful flavors, this bourbon and chocolate combo aims to create harmony between softer ones. Almond has a gentle nutty flavor, and toasted almonds can be quite aromatic. In tandem with Old Elk's light and creamy vanilla, toffee, and clove, chocolate and almond flavors snuggle up quite fittingly. So fittingly, in fact, that you may even detect a hint of toasted almonds in the bourbon itself.

There's also a textural match between almond chocolate and Old Elk whiskey, as high-wheat bourbons can soften the mouthfeel of whiskey. Old Elk has a luscious, creamy weight making it a one-for-one match with milk-chocolate-coated almonds.

Redemption Wheated Bourbon And Peanut Chocolate

redemption wheated whiskey peanut chocolate
redemption wheated whiskey peanut chocolate - Redemption Whiskey and Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock

Not all bourbons are made in Kentucky, which goes for another wheat-heavy variety that is a worthy match for nut-based chocolates: Redemption Wheated Bourbon. Redemption's wheated bourbon comes in at 96 proof, giving it that extra touch of alcohol to counter peanuts' oily and salty qualities.

In terms of flavor, Redemption offers suitably robust notes that stand up against the fatty richness of chocolate with peanuts or peanut butter. With a nudge of spice and roasty coffee, this bourbon has enough depth to meet the weight of peanuts and even has a light hazelnut note as well. The bourbon's persistent toasty quality also collaborates well with peanuts.

With 45% winter wheat in the grain bill, this is about as expressive of the grain's qualities as they come. That's not to say that this bourbon is bold and overpowering, but rather that the subtle notes it collects on the palate can amalgamate as seamlessly with peanut chocolate as they do without.

The great thing about peanuts is they can go in more than one direction, equally appealing in sweet milk chocolate or its bitter and dark counterpart. Redemption Wheated Bourbon has this same talent, as an easy-to-sip accompaniment to light or dark chocolate. It can add roast and spice to complement dark chocolate while softening its bitterness, or buddy up with sweeter chocolate to lend its caramel and vanilla notes, all while letting the peanut flavor shine.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey And Chili Chocolate

buffalo trace and chili chocolate
buffalo trace and chili chocolate - Buffalo Trace Distillery and Zakharova_natalia/Getty Images

Buffalo Trace's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is about as ubiquitous as a bourbon brand gets, as it's known for being one of the great value spirit brands in the market. So, why would we pair up such an accessible bourbon with one of the more unusual styles of chocolate? Well, the very same qualities that make this bourbon so appealing also make it a great partner for chili-flavored chocolate. The reason why chili and chocolate go so well together is the unique way that sweetness can quell some of the fire of hot chili, while the heat elevates cocoa notes, resulting in mutually enhanced flavor.

Enter, bourbon. Mixing spirits and spicy food can be somewhat treacherous, as hot food can often make the burn on whiskey even more fiery. The key to creating harmony is to choose a spirit with an innate sweetness that can join chocolate in quenching the flames. While the spirit contains a negligible amount of sugar, the sensory experience of sweetness can still mean a satisfying bourbon and chocolate pairing.

Buffalo Trace's brown sugar, molasses, and vanilla, all offer a rich sweetness to the drop. At the same time, spicey notes of anise and mint provide the elevation of aromatic spice without contributing to the heat. You may even conjure some complementary chocolate notes from the spirit with a piece of chili chocolate in one hand.

Bulleit Bourbon And Milk Chocolate

bulleit bourbon and milk chocolate
bulleit bourbon and milk chocolate - bulleit / Instagram and Dny59/Getty Images

One of the classic grains to include in bourbon's mash bill is rye, and Bulleit Bourbon uses it to take on elevated spice notes that jive well with milk chocolate. A respectable 28% of this Kentucky straight bourbon is rye, which contributes soft notes of cinnamon and nutmeg while peaking some tropical notes like pineapple. The fruitiness that rye lends to this bourbon makes for a delicious companion to the sweetness of milk chocolate. With that said, Bulleit Bourbon isn't over-the-top sweet, which is a good thing, as stacking too much sugar can become cloying in a match. The sugar in milk chocolate can reduce the sensation of the sweetness in the bourbon, outshining it and accentuating the spirit's spice and fruit notes.

Milk chocolate is creamier than darker chocolate, and invites Bulleit's drier, cleaner body to cut through. This creates a balanced and pleasing sensory experience -- like how dry wine can carve through fatty cheese. Despite its restrained sweetness, there's something dessert-like in how Bulleit Bourbon combines sugar and spice. Think baked apple pie, or cinnamon pancakes with a drizzle of maple syrup.

At 90 proof, there's enough alcohol to balance milk chocolate's heaviness, while remaining light and smooth enough to maintain its contrast. Ultimately, this pairing doesn't succeed by matching flavors exactly, but by creating harmony through the counteracting qualities of the different characteristics.

Four Roses Small Batch And Dark Chocolate

four roses small batch chocolate
four roses small batch chocolate - fourrosesbourbon / Instagram and Photo1819/Shutterstock

Dark chocolate is loved by some, and reviled by others. It's intense, bitter, and unforgiving. To those who enjoy it, it offers complexity, decadence, and richness. A suitable bourbon pair should match dark chocolate's complexity while softening its bitterness and introducing a lightness that makes for a harmonious pairing. Four Roses Small Batch is just that bourbon.

Four Roses Small Batch is intricate, with at least six years of aging to give it its mellow, generous flavor profile. On the palate, Four Roses empties the fruit basket, offering berries, stonefruit, citrus, cherries, and summer fruit. These manifest not as sweetness or juiciness, but add lightness and balance to its richer spice, oak, and pepper notes. Combined, these qualities create complexity, making it a fair match for dark chocolate.

The chewy caramel notes in the bourbon offer reprise from dark chocolate's intense bitterness, and a little promise of sweetness goes a long way to let subtler cocoa notes flourish. Small Batch has a creamy mouthfeel, which can also smooth out the sharp edges of dark chocolate. Bitterness is a quality that can linger long on the palate, but this Four Roses bourbon has a suitably extended finish, keeping the complex profile around long enough to give the chocolate a fair run for its money.

Old Forester 100 Proof And Coffee Chocolate

old forester coffee chocolate
old forester coffee chocolate - oldforester / Instagram and Yagi-studio/Getty Images

It's not controversial to say that coffee and chocolate are a match made in heaven. Both cocoa and coffee have bitterness that works well with sugar and fat, and each can introduce its arrays of complex secondary flavors. Fruity, nutty, or floral notes can all add extra depth to coffee chocolate. When a suitable (and attractively affordable) bourbon such as Old Forrester 100 Proof enters the picture, a trifecta of complementary flavors presents itself.

On the nose, Old Forester invites coffee lovers with a roasted flavor that hints at a cup of Joe. What's more, cocoa notes in the mix, immediately create a connection between the spirit and coffee chocolate. On the palate, Old Forester brightens up lighter fruity notes of apple and fig that find balance against a peppery heat. Underlying all of this is a gentle vanilla throughline that slowly emerges. Old Forester 100 proof and coffee chocolate are a match of cohesion, as all of these flavors form a cast of friendly characters you love to see together.

A bourbon pairing must equal the intensity and richness of coffee and chocolate, which Old Forester does. The 100 proof on the label isn't just for show, as this 50% ABV gives the spirit fire and heft that stops it from being overpowered by coffee.

Barton 1792 Full Proof And Caramel Chocolate

1792 full proof caramel chocolate
1792 full proof caramel chocolate - Barton 1792 and Urfinguss/Getty Images

There is an impressive range of excellent 1792 bourbons, each with pros and cons. One of Barton Distillery's 1792 Full Proof strengths is just that -- a strength of 125 proof. The distillery achieves its full-proof bourbon by cutting it with water until it reaches the strength with which it entered the barrel (offsetting the water lost to evaporation during aging). This creates a small amount of dilution compared to other bourbons on this list which are cut back to around 90 proof. This is especially advantageous when paired with the sweetness of caramel chocolate.

1792 Full Proof presents notes of caramel, but not so intensely that it becomes too much in tandem with chocolate of the same persuasion. Instead, the caramel and vanilla from the oak create a bridge of compatibility across which the bourbon's other notes can walk. These include rich nuts, dried fruit, and smokey oak, which travel through this powerful spirit. This is a pairing you may want to sit down for, and be sure to hold onto something stable.

Chocolate and caramel together have the potential to be tooth-achingly sugary. That's where a higher-proof spirit comes in handy. Adding sugar into boozy bourbon cocktails (once again, the old-fashioned comes to mind) is a tried and tested way to create balance, which works both ways. Sugar can help to soften the heat of alcohol, allowing some of the bourbon's other flavors to become more prominent.

George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon And White Chocolate

george t. stagg white chocolate
george t. stagg white chocolate - Buffalo Trace Distillery and Fotografiabasica/Getty Images

White chocolate is a luscious and creamy variety that benefits from the balance that high-proof bourbons like George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon can offer. White chocolate gets much of its distinctive fatty, oily texture from cocoa butter, one of its primary ingredients. A high alcohol-content bourbon can cut cleanly through this fat in the chocolate and create equilibrium between the two.

With new releases every year (excluding 2021), there can be variation between the level of alcohol in the George T. Stagg bourbon, so we're zeroing in on the 2023 expression, which offers a whopping 135 proof which is more than enough zap to cut through the fat in white chocolate.

On the palate, this expression offers confectionary flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and cherry, which are not hard to imagine pairing well with white chocolate. Deeper dried fruits like raisins emerge before earthier, leathery notes appear. The butteriness offered by white chocolate, and cocoa butter's vanilla-like quality stays in concert with these basey notes to form an appealing cohesion. This whiskey is not one to drink quickly, but white chocolate will quench some of its fire and reveal its well-earned qualities. After more than 15 years in the barrel, this bourbon will probably be thankful for a rest.

Methodology

bourbon and chocolate flavors
bourbon and chocolate flavors - 5ph/Getty Images

We started the list by establishing the types of chocolate we wanted to pair bourbons with and decided which qualities and flavors would best suit each variety. Then, we used a combination of personal experience and research to match each type of chocolate with a bourbon that not only shines in the match but works as a mutually beneficial pairing.

The bourbons on this list cover a variety of price brackets and degrees of prestige. In cases where we haven't personally tried the bourbon, we sought consumer and expert reviews in conjunction with product information to gain insight. Pairings were recommended based on well-established principles of matching spirits with food.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.