This post has been sponsored by Brown-Forman. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
One of my favorite ways to entertain is creating a huge spread that is both fun and a little educational; this style of entertaining really sparks conversation and interaction in a way that I just don't see from standard dinner parties. So today, I'm going to teach you everything you need to know to create an amazing cheese and chocolate board that perfectly pairs with my favorite bourbon: Woodford Reserve®. And I'm going give you all the knowledge you need to educate your friends about tasting bourbon, too!
First things first, let's make sure the basics are covered. If you want to know more, reach out to Brown-Forman's chatbot on Facebook or the 'Whiskey Whisperer" and directly ask questions you may have.
What is Whiskey?
Whiskey is a type of liquor made from mash, a mixture of grains (like corn, rye, wheat, and barley) that is aged in an oak barrel. Aging in an unused oak barrel is a requirement to be called a whiskey.
Is Bourbon the same as Whiskey?
Like your thumb is a finger but not all fingers are thumbs, bourbon is a type of whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon is a special type of whiskey made of a mash containing at least 51% corn that has been stored in new charred oak. Aside from those, there a quite a few more requirements that come with being classified as bourbon, such as, only whiskey produced in the United States can be called bourbon!
Now you're thinking, "Cool! Corn is gluten free!"
Is Bourbon Gluten Free?
We all have that friend. So when they ask, you'll be ready with an educated answer: although bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn (which is gluten-free), the remaining 49% includes a mash of other grains that likely and usually do contain gluten—meaning most bourbon is not gluten free. To be safe, though, I recommend checking with the specific brand you're drinking!
Now that you are armed with the most basic of basic knowledge, you might be wondering about the next step: how to drink whiskey! And in this more specific case...
How to Drink Bourbon
There is arguably no wrong way to drink bourbon, but there are some standard ways to drink it that might help you understand what you like best.
This refers to bourbon in a glass. No ice, no mixers. Usually 1.5 oz of bourbon in a glass, to be specific. Bourbon neat is my preferred way to slowly sip through a drink and is usually best for more experienced (as opposed to novice) bourbon drinkers.
Bourbon on the Rocks
Still bourbon in a glass but this time with ice! You want to make sure to use good quality ice made with filtered water so as not to impart any of the water's impurities into your bourbon. Just a few regular sized cubes will do or one large cube.
The ice will melt in your glass, which both chills and dilutes the bourbon. Smaller cubes melt faster, which has been the impetus for many cocktail bars to move towards using larger cubes, as they chill the drink without watering it down as much.
Don't let the idea of adding water turn you away, though! A small amount of water can bring out the flavors of the whiskey.
Bourbon Drink Recipes
Not ready for bourbon all on its own yet? Pairing it with cheese and chocolates is a great way to match the bold flavors of bourbon whiskey, but you can also try a cocktail if you're looking for something a bit more fun.
Bourbon Whiskey Brands
If you find yourself overwhelmed at the store when trying to buy a bourbon or selection of bourbons for your tasting, I highly recommend starting with a brand that is already well loved and respected, like Woodford Reserve®, and exploring within their lineup. This can help your palate discern how certain changes in the distilling and aging process alter the product, while keeping some of the base flavors familiar. Learn more about each type and click the button below to find out where to buy them!
Supplies for a Bourbon Tasting Paired with Cheese and Chocolate
- A selection of bourbon
- I like Woodford Reserve®, Woodford Reserve® Double Oaked, and Old Forester® for a nice range of flavors and price points.
- Feel free to keep it classic and just use one bourbon to explore with the cheese and chocolates.
- A clean glass for each bourbon, per person.
- For three bourbons and four people, I set out 12 single old-fashioned glasses.
- The standard glass you see in bars (often referred to simply as an old-fashioned glass or a rocks glass) is actually a double old-fashioned glass. I don't like doing tastings with these glasses because the small amount of whiskey placed in each glass does not allow for a good look at the color of each tasting, and the larger glass also can lend itself to overconsumption. The smaller single old-fashioned glass feels classier than a shot glass, and a ¾ ounce pour still looks nice in it.
- Good quality ice
- Water droppers with filtered water.
- These aren't as hard to find as you might expect—you can find them at your local craft store, online, or even in the essential oils section of your favorite variety store.
- Drinking water for each person - hydration is important!
- A cheese board or large plate for all the nibbles
- A safe ride home for yourself or making sure attendees of your gathering have a safe way home.
Shopping List for Cheese and Chocolate Board
We'll be pairing Woodford Reserve® with three cheeses and three chocolates, plus some fun accoutrements.
- Aged Gouda (preferably 18+ months old)
- Blue Cheese
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate (look for around 67% if the percentage is listed)
- Milk Chocolate (55% or lower)
- Dark Chocolate Caramels (a fun option for those who don't want a ton of chocolate but still want to enjoy the pairings)
- Grapes (an excellent palate cleanser to be consumed between sips and bites)
- Sliced Apples (an alternate palate cleanser)
- Assorted Crackers
How to Host a Bourbon Tasting Paired with Cheese and Chocolate
- Pre-portion ¾ ounce pours of Woodford Reserve® into a glass for each participant.
- Place a water dropper next to each glass.
- Set up an ice bucket with tongs.
- Instruct participants to smell, but not swirl, the bourbon. Swirling releases alcohol that will overpower the nuances of the bourbon. (Yes, this is different than wine tasting!) Think about the flavors that the smell of the bourbon hints are in store. Make sure to discuss with everyone around you and see who tasted what!
- Take a small sip of bourbon. Note any flavors that stand out. Like before, discuss with the others tasting (and do this at every step!)
- Add a droplet or two of water to the bourbon and let it sit for a few minutes to open up the flavors in the bourbon. During this time, feel free to point out which cheeses and chocolates are on the board! Sip the bourbon with the droplets of water, and note any changes in the flavors.
- Add ice to the bourbon. Allow it to chill just a bit, and then take another sip. Note how the chill on the bourbon can mute some flavors and change the prevalence of others.
- Given the flavors you've tasted so far, make a selection of cheese or chocolate. Try the cheese or chocolate, and then taste the bourbon again. How has the flavor of the bourbon changed? Take another taste of the cheese or chocolate. How has the flavor of the food changed?
- Repeat, discussing with your fellow tasters to see who likes what pairings and which pairings yield the most interesting changes and flavors.
Curious how your tasting notes compare with the pros? Head over to the Woodford Reserve website to check out their tasting notes and more!
Please drink responsibly. Brown-Forman Corporation. Louisville,KY. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 42% to 45.2% bev alc/vol. Old Forester and Woodford Reserve are registered trademarks. ©2019 All rights reserved. Intended for readers 21+. Please do not forward or share this content to anyone under the legal drinking age.