What do the city’s savvy bartenders sip to unwind after a long night behind the wood? Bourbon and a brew. Is this ballsy new pairing magical or plain old macho?
There are a handful of bartenders and brewers scattered across the city who share a particular preference when it comes to how they unwind after a long shift—pairing a glass of their favourite bourbon with a hoppy India pale ale. When I first caught wind of this combination, I dismissed it as just hipster bravado. I mean, c’mon: The sexy spirit-of-the-moment sipped alongside arguably the manliest of American craft-beer styles? All that’s missing is the fixed-gear bike.
In a nod to Toronto’s first “Bourbon Week,” which kicks off on Sept. 27, I brought a couple of IPAs to the man who told me about this oddball combo—Robin Kaufman, bartender at the Toronto Temperance Society—to see if he could make me a believer.
“The idea isn’t new,” Kaufman says. “People like to have scotch with beer because the barley-malt bases of both drinks complement one another. But, to me, bourbon works better; it’s sweeter. Its rich vanilla and toffee flavours contrast the bitter hops in an IPA, so [the pairing] ends up highlighting the opposing elements.”
First, we sipped Eagle Rare’s 10 Year Old whiskey. Kaufman pointed out its honey, leather, and orange-peel aromas, but I just got booze, vanilla, and more booze. Whoa.
To accompany it, I poured Phillip’s Hop Circle, a British Columbia IPA with pine and orange-peel bitterness and a firm caramel-malt backbone. Suddenly, there it was. The beer’s cool temperature and bitter bite numbed the bourbon’s heat, giving way to its sweet maple-syrup centre. In turn, the bourbon penetrated the beer’s malty core, creating a crisper, brighter hop finish.
Then we went balls-out, matching the booziest bourbon on the market—a 140-proof George T. Stagg—with Black Oak’s Ten Bitter Years, a thicker, “Imperial” IPA that clocks in at eight per cent. Together, the two mimicked a cocktail: The beer’s mango and pineapple hops nicely balanced the bourbon’s lush chocolate-and-molasses sweetness.
“Nobody wants to sit there and analyze every drink they have,” says Kaufman, “but the cool thing about putting these two things together is that they’re both so rich, which forces your brain to tap into what you’re drinking—at least for second.”
Bourbons and IPAs are big beasts on their own, but mashing them up helps to show off each one’s best qualities. The different pairings were fun, leaving this beer nerd with high spirits and, just maybe, a new booze to geek out over.
FAVOURITE WILD-CARD PAIRING
Tequila Tromba Anejo (aged in bourbon barrels for two years)
Sweet-meets-sweet with notes of brown sugar, candied almonds, and a squeeze