It’s difficult to imagine a more American pairing than bourbon and jerky. The former is our native spirit, born of bluegrass. The latter conjures images of rugged cowboys roaming the open prairie. On the palate, they make perfect stablemates. The oak-imbued sweetness and spice of an aged whiskey meets its match in a dried meat with hefty overtures of pepper and lingering umami.
When it comes to both bourbon and jerky pairings, there is a dizzying array of options. Bourbon shelves are crammed with wheated, high rye and wine barrel–finished expressions, to name a few. The jerky market is perhaps even more dense, with nearly every kind of seasoning and meat imaginable. Certain combinations seem destined for one another.
So in honor of our country’s upcoming birthday, we’ve sourced the best local jerky and sussed out their most suitable, oak-aged sipping companions.
Jimmy’s Sticky Jerky Sweet Beef and Blanton’s Single-Barrel Bourbon
Made in the South Bay, Jimmy’s Sticky Jerky immerses its beef in inventive marinades prior to drying, with offbeat results. The Sweet Beef, a solid example, delivers hints of maple syrup, brown sugar and fresh ginger in every tender bite. It’s an exotic sweetness that finds its match in Blanton’s Single-Barrel Bourbon. The high concentration of corn in the whiskey merges with notes of vanilla and cinnamon from the barrel in which it sits for nearly half a decade. It finishes smooth as butterscotch. You’ll actually want to bite into the jerky first, introducing the maple and ginger, to prep the palate for the easygoing spirit to follow.
Long Beach Jerky Company Buffalo Wing and Hooker’s House Sonoma-Style Bourbon
Long Beach Jerky Company‘s Alex Naticchioni has a lifelong obsession with buffalo wings. So it was only natural for him to incorporate the familiar flavor into his dried beef, which is available at dive bars and breweries throughout the L.A. area. Although the Long Beach Jerky co-founder recommends pairing his buffalo-wing-sauce-topped jerky with beer and football, it’s even better with a respectable bourbon. Made in Northern California, Hooker’s House is putting out one of the best wine barrel–finished bourbons on the market today. Its Sonoma-style spirit is 6-year-old Kentucky juice girded by an additional few months up north, resting in vintage pinot noir casks. Bold and curiously tangy, it unites two great flavors into one beautiful whole — much like the merger of beef jerky and buffalo wings.
Krave Jerky Basil Citrus Turkey Jerky and Maker’s 46
Juicier than normal jerky and lighter in mouthfeel, Krave’s Basil Citrus Turkey Jerky is clearly an outlier in the realm of dried beef (mainly since it’s not beef at all). It’s only fair, then, that its ideal sipping companion is a bourbon-world outlier: Maker’s 46. Part of the Maker’s Mark portfolio, Maker’s 46 is a wheated whiskey finished with seared French oak staves. The tweaking adds a layer of earthiness to the caramel-like qualities for which traditional Maker’s is known. Crisp, marginally herbaceous properties of the basil and citrus provide a sensible parallel. They bring out the best in each other.
Dried and True Peppered Beef Jerky and Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Venice’s own Dried and True Beef Jerky is notable for its thick, chewy consistency. Produced without nitrites and sourced from California cattle, the beef hardly needs enhancement. The peppered variety lets the meat take centerstage, adding only a subtle layer of spice to tickle the tongue. These same notes are echoed in a proper dram of Buffalo Trace, a Kentucky bourbon renowned for the gentle rye notes it imparts in its lingering finish. A hearty chunk of the peppered beef plays as perfect chaser.