How To Pair Bourbon With Your Kentucky Fried Chicken Order

Perhaps it was inevitable that the rising popularity of bourbon (with sales up by more than 50% since 1999, according to Ward III) would lead to some consideration about the foods that pair best with it. In fact, many digital media outlets have weighed in on that subject, sharing guides on how to pair all types of bourbon with food, with tips to generalize across cuisines. Pairings, it seems, aren't just for food and wine anymore.

Whisky Advocate suggests pairing bourbon with complementary food flavors, which former "Top Chef" participant Annie Pettry says results in a seamless blending of flavors. The source also addresses contrasting pairings, which Pettry explains, "bring out nuanced flavors [...] to create a new and unexpected flavor." 

The Gentlemanual offers a similar approach, noting that since bourbon is produced in the southern United States, it should pair well with regional foods. As well, foods with combinations of sweet, smoky, or spiced notes make a good match. Of course, Southern food includes fried chicken, so you shouldn't hesitate to pair bourbon with your next order of KFC.

What bourbons should you select?

Given the inherent connection between fried chicken and bourbon, we're not the first to suggest the pairing. Both bourbon and KFC are tied to Kentucky; KFC's roots are in a roadside restaurant in Corbin, and the Kentucky Distillers' Association reports that by the end of 2020, there were 10.3 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky warehouses. 

As such, it only makes sense to link the two in a palate-testing exercise. As a basic premise, finding the right KFC and bourbon pairing is about balance. The bourbon's nuanced flavors shouldn't overpower KFC's crunchy crust, but contribute to the final taste and mouthfeel.

Whisky of the Week chose Maker's Mark, Eagle Rare, Jim Beam Black, Elijah Craig, and Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 as pairings ranked on a 5-point scale. At the top were Elijah Craig and Jack Daniel's, followed by Jim Beam Black, Eagle Rare, and finally Maker's Mark. The top two choices are opposites in complexity, with the 12-year-old Elijah Craig offering caramel, oak, cinnamon, and orange peel notes (via The Whiskey Shelf). In contrast, Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 is described by the distiller as a balance of sweet and oaky flavors. 

Jim Beam Black, reviewed by The Whisky Exchange, has aromas of orange, toast, toffee, and caramel. Eagle Rare's distiller, describing the 10-year-old bourbon in the pairing, notes its oaky, almond, and cocoa flavors. Maker's Mark describes its bourbon as sweet, with notes of oak, vanilla, and fruit.