STEVE COOMES COMBINES BOURBON AND BITES TO CREATE A VALENTINE’S TASTE EXPERIENCE AT HOME
blog | 02/05/2019
We all know how the rhyme begins, “roses are red …,” but reality is it ends with spending a lot of green on flowers that last only about a week. And since most anyone can buy them, what’s so creative about presenting your princess with a bouquet on Valentine’s Day?
If you’re Paul Jones, Jr., the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, there’s lots. As the story goes, Jones (not yet a Bourbon baron) was smitten with a Southern belle and proposed marriage to her via letter (call it 19th century texting). Should she accept, he wrote, she would adorn her ball gown with a corsage of roses at a future ball. As if scripted by Hallmark, when Jones next saw his beloved, her ball gown was adorned with a corsage of four red roses. He later used the image to name his Bourbon “Four Roses.” Clever, right?
In 2019, with Valentine’s Day upon us, we’re challenged to be equally clever. But, when it’s the second busiest night of the year for restaurant traffic, I don’t find such clamor remotely romantic. Though in this, my 23rd year of marriage, my wife still expects a special meal, she doesn’t want something complicated. That’s important for two reasons: complicated cooking = lots of dishes to clean; and complicated food = stress. I’ve learned we both like things simple, but finessed. Allow me to explain.
I’m a grazer who prefers nibbling on multiple tastes rather than gorging on one. So, it was natural that I started doing large event food and spirits pairings that elevated the flavors in each sip or bite in ways that surprised participants. At every pairing I hear essentially the same comment: “I’d never have thought X would taste so good with Y! I’m going to do this at home.”
Which is what you should do for Valentine’s Day: a taste and nibble treat rather than some borderline Viking feast. You could serve such a pairing on a single platter placed on a coffee table (or if you’re flexible unlike me, on the carpet in a candlelit room).
This is how the drill goes. Pick four or five of your favorite Bourbons and four to five complementary foods that are cravable, fatty, salty or sweet – or even salty-sweet – and strongly flavored. For example, some of my first professional pairings were simple: fine country hams sliced paper thin (like prosciutto, not cooked) and paired with whiskeys. As those pairings evolved, chocolates, cheeses, nuts, jerky, cookies, smoked salmon and more have been added to make the experience more adventurous. Even Bourbon cocktails are now common in these pairings.
The goal of these pairings is to show participants how contrast and elevate food and spirits flavors in surprising ways. Trust me, you eat a paper-thin slice of Newsom’s country ham alongside a sip of Four Roses OBSQ and you’ll never look at either the same way again.
Some basic starter tips:
- High proof Bourbons pair well with fattier items because they cleanse the palate
- High rye Bourbons pair well with lean proteins, which elevate rye grain notes
- Lower-proof Bourbons pair well with mild cheeses, fruits and chocolates
That said, since everyone’s palate is different, mix any and all of these options to see what you like best. There are no set rules in pairing! A chocolatier I pair with mashes together mild bleu cheese with milk chocolate and then follows it with a sip of low-proof Bourbon. The result is mind-blowing!
Suggested bites: (½ oz. each)
- Mild cheeses such as smoked gouda, aged cheddar and some bleu varieties
- Long-aged (12 to 24 months) cured ham, sliced paper thin – and never cooked!
- High-quality beef or pork jerky (even Asian spiced varieties are excellent)
- High-quality chocolate that’s lower in cacao (40-60 percent) and higher in fat
- Full-flavored nuts such as roasted almonds and macadamias
- Dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots and candied orange slices
Suggested Bourbons: (½ oz. pours)
- Four Roses Bourbon (80 proof)
- Four Roses Small Batch (90 proof)
- Four Roses Single Barrel (100 proof)
The Four Roses Ginger Rose. This cocktail brings many food-friendly flavors to the fore, so it pairs well with anything in the above list.
If you don’t think this sounds like a filling meal for two, know two things: This is more about enjoying an incredible flavor experience than a mere meal; and the foods you’ll pair with are rich and filling. I also find that variety can lead to satiety, especially if you have enough for two or more tastes of each item.
And don’t forget: This grazing strategy means you’ll not be washing any dishes on the most romantic night of the year.