Let me start this by saying that I am an amateur at pairing Bourbon and Chocolate and Kelly Ramsey of Art Eatables is the professional. Kelly and I have worked together pairing chocolate and Bourbon on a couple of occasions and she is a real master of this craft. She has a refined palate for both Bourbon and chocolate that allows her to pick out flavors in both that pair well together. Her expertise is quite evident if you have ever tried any of her Bourbon truffles. With that said I am going to place in writing here what I think are the basics for pairing Bourbon and Chocolate.
Finding a chocolate and Bourbon that pair well in one of these categories is a real treat. The first thing I learned from Kelly is the chocolate does matter. You can try pairing Bourbon with a candy bar or some other off the shelf chocolate that is massed produced, but you will be missing out on so much flavor that it is hardly worth it. Look for chocolates with different percentages of cacao and different fermentation periods.
I like to break the Bourbon and chocolate pair into four different categories of flavor: caramel, fruit, spice and tannins. These are often the strongest flavors in a Bourbon so decide which one you want to emphasize with the chocolate. Then pick two or three different chocolates and start experimenting. You may not find the perfect pairing the first time around but take the one that was closest to what you are looking for and find chocolates that are a little higher and lower in the percentages of cacao to that chocolate and try again. You may even try a combination of two of the chocolates. Try taking a small piece of each at the same time with the Bourbon. If you like it you can later melt these together and try again with the Bourbon. Remember that chocolate, like Bourbon will change in many ways when you marry them together, and sometimes that way is an unexpected flavor.
In my limited experience here is what I found that works best in these categories. Caramel is often brought out with milk chocolate. A small percentage of dark chocolate can be added to enhance this flavor as well. Fruit is enhanced by the lighter percent dark chocolate. Spice is brought out with a higher content dark chocolate and tannins are emphasized with all chocolates but the darker the chocolate the more the tannins come through.
Experimenting with Bourbon and chocolate can be fun and the effort will improve the experience for both Bourbon and chocolate. The best way to start is go to your local store that carries a wide variety of chocolates. By varieties I do mean different cacao content, not just brands, but a variety of brands can be good. Like Bourbon, chocolate undergoes a fermentation period and that can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, giving the chocolate a different flavor. Pick your chocolates and then your bourbon. Pour a glass of Bourbon and then lay out small bite sized bits of chocolate on plate next to your glass. Sip the Bourbon to get your base flavor profile and then take a bite of chocolate and another sip. Note how the chocolate affects the flavor of the Bourbon and how the Bourbon affects the flavor of the chocolate. This may take several tastes of both to truly get a feel for the exchange. Small bites of chocolate are all that is needed to get the feel for this exchange of flavors so don’t be tempted to take too large of a piece of chocolate for the tasting. I like to start with a milk chocolate and then move to increasingly darker chocolates.
Once you have your favorite for chocolate for that particular Bourbon, try the same chocolates with a different Bourbon and see what happens. Is it the same chocolate as the first chocolate? If not how do the Bourbons differ from each other? Are they similar in taste profile or completely different? I find it interesting to take two or three brands from the same distillery and same mash bill – Wild Turkey for example- and to taste chocolates with them. I find each product still has a different chocolate that best enhances the experience of both Bourbon and chocolate.
Take an evening and make a party of pairing Bourbon and chocolate. It will enrich the Bourbon experience and you and your friends will be glad you did so. If you need help finding chocolates, then I suggest that a trip to Art Eatables might be in order. Buy the truffles made with the Bourbons you wish to taste and see what type of chocolate Kelly chose to pair with that Bourbon. Then you can base your purchase of chocolate around that truffle. However you decide to do it, pairing chocolate and Bourbon will make for a great evening of fun with friends and family.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl