Pairing Southern Food With Spirits


No offense to wine or beer, but the versatile flavors of Southern cuisine are ideal with a variety of boozier counterparts.

All photos by Devon Trevathan.

I have lived in the most geographically southern state of all 48 contiguous states for most of my life, however I have only lived in the South for three years. Before relocating to Tennessee from Florida, I had a vague understanding of the culinary culture that is so fundamentally entwined with Southern DNA. My impression was that food was either fried, cooked to death, or mounted with enough butter to make a life-sized sculpture of a cow, but I quickly realized that Southern cuisine is all that and then some.

As I began to eat more of it, I naturally wondered about the best spirit pairings. We all know that bourbon and barbeque complement each other exceptionally well, and obviously a variety of wine styles will do the trick, but what other magical combinations exist? I present to you my list of quintessential Southern foods and their spirit partners.

Southern Shrimp & Grits with Contemporary Gin

Shrimp and grits are a Southern staple and one of the few regional dishes that I find myself craving on a regular basis. To balance out the richness of the rendered bacon, pair this dish with a refreshing gin and tonic. Gin plays beautifully with shrimp, and the lightness of the cocktail will work well day or night. I recommend a contemporary or subtle gin that leans away from juniper and its intense piney flavor.

BBQ pork and rye whiskey

BBQ pork and rye whiskey

Fried Chicken and Apple Brandy

Some might say that fried chicken is a food so universally loved that it no longer belongs to the South, but those people would be wrong. Fried chicken is an essential southern food that tempts us all, regardless of how terribly unhealthy it is. My pick to pair is a good Calvados brandy or an apple brandy that’s been in barrel for at least two years. The sweet, slightly spicy character of the brandy will play nicely with the salt and spice of the chicken.

Barbecue Pork and Rye Whiskey

Perhaps not the most original partnership, but the classics do deserve recognition. Barbecue and American whiskey have proven themselves worthy adversaries, and while bourbon tends to get more attention, rye is certainly no slouch. The full body and flavor of a rye whiskey, especially one that’s been smoked, is a wonderful complement to the fat and sweet that is dominant in good BBQ. A marriage made in culinary heaven!

Need some inspiration for the spirits to try with these pairings? Check out the medal winners in the 2018 NY International Spirits Competition!