Southern cooking and bourbon. Name a more iconic duo, I’ll wait.
Both were on the menu last week at Peaches in Norwalk, Connecticut. The pub and juke joint serves authentic southern fare in New England. As part of October’s Norwalk Now celebrations, Peaches hosted a dinner of southern cooking paired with bourbon cocktails. The hosts were Modern Distillery Age Publisher/Editor Gregg Glaser, and Diageo Reserve Account Consultant Anthony Deserio.
We attended the dinner to pick up pairing tips.
1) Rosemary Maple Bourbon Sour with Dark & Stormy Ribs
Cocktail: Bulleit bourbon, rosemary, Dorset maple reserve maple syrup, egg white
Dish: Confit spare ribs, ginger rum glaze
This pairing of crispy ribs with a thick, maple-forward cocktail comes down to the glaze. “The sweet corn flavors from the bourbon in this drink goes well with the rum glaze’s sweetness,” explains Deserio.
The same was also true for the bright rosemary and ginger notes of the drink, which matched that delicious sweet tangy glaze.
2) Blade & Bow Press with Petit Pork Shank Cassoulet
Cocktail: Blade & Bow bourbon, ginger ale, soda, twist
Dish: Served in a black-eyed pea stew
Deserio recalled his childhood for this cocktail, remembering the first mixed drink an adult let him sample: a Seagram’s Press in an Italian American Club. He brought that classic drink into modern times, matching it with a rich, hearty dish.
“I wanted to play it safe here with a fresh, boozy cocktail,” Deserio says. The press is an easy-sipper, with pronounced booziness from the Blade & Bow, which cuts through the heavy food. The drink is both refreshing, and powerful enough for the pork and stew.
3) Bourbon Sweet Tea with Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Cocktail: I.W. Harper bourbon, sweet brewed tea, lemon, mint
Dish: Served with Peaches’ homemade hot honey
Who didn’t see this coming? (It is the feature photo, after all.) Two southern classics collide in this perfect pairing. The sweetness of the hot honey matches the many sweet components of the mixed drink. And the easy-sipping cocktail helps cool down the palate after the minor heat of the hot honey.
The mash bill for I.W. Harper is high on corn (about 73%), meaning this bourbon is more sweet than spicy. All the more ideal in this pairing. The Peaches homemade hot honey was so flavorful — a perfect blend of heat and sweet — that some at the table wondered whether they could know the restaurant’s secret recipe. The answer: a resounding No.
4) I.W. Harper 15 Year Old Bourbon with 8 Hour Double Caramel Crepes
Cocktail: Bourbon neat
Dish: Bourbon and burnt sugar ice cream, fresh whipped cream
Okay, this is cheating. There’s nothing mixed about serving bourbon neat, of course. But the high-corn content of I.W. Harper 15 is an ideal mate to any sweet dessert. Here the caramel flavors of the crepes are mirrored in the vanilla and caramel flavors of the bourbon. An ideal pairing, and the perfect ending to a lovely dinner that brought together two classic southern traditions.
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Cheers magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece 5 Trends Driving Growth for Cordials and Liqueurs.