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With the rise of high-end bourbons and whiskeys, craft beer and wine may have some new competition when it comes to being paired with food. Having all the flavor complexities of its lower ABV cousins, bourbon and whiskey are no longer sitting on the sidelines as digestifs. Whiskey bars with food concepts — like Radish and Rye in Santa Fe and Noorman’s Kil in Brooklyn — are inviting patrons to experience the spirits as an accompaniment to au courant dishes on innovative menus.

What’s the key to successfully pairing whiskey with food? Michael Sebree, bartender at Radish and Rye, views pairing as following the same vein as cocktail theory. “You look at how the spirit was made and what you can pull out,” Sebree says. “With bourbons and Scotches, you might get some chocolate notes. You get some high end mineral qualities with Scotches, and nutty flavors imparted by the wood. Just like you would consider these qualities when mixing a drink, you can pronounce those parts when you’re pairing with them with food.”

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A career bartender with more than 20 years of experience in Europe and New York, Sebree points to his upbringing on a farm in Kentucky as responsible for his “strong bourbon game” and an early foundation in fresh, farm-to-table flavors. Radish and Rye features a seasonal menu with ingredients sourced as locally and freshly as possible. When pairing dishes with selections from the expertly curated bourbon menu (which includes custom single barrels from Buffalo Trace Distillery), Sebree considers how flavor notes from a spirit might parallel or contrast what might be found in a particular food preparation.

For example, Sebree marries grilled lamb ribs with spicy Salbitxada sauce alongside Stagg Jr., an unfiltered Kentucky bourbon that clocks in at a toasty 132 proof. The strong rye and clove notes of the Stagg Jr. hold up against the spiciness of the sauce, and the high-proof burn also cuts pleasantly with the fatty, caramelized sweetness of the grilled meat. >>Read the rest at Tales of the Cocktail

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