Before it is distilled, whiskey begins as a beer, called a wash, composed of water, grain, and yeast. And much like beer, whiskey can fall into any number of styles that represent different flavor profiles. In essence, beer and whiskey are two sides of the same coin, which is perhaps why they taste so great alongside one another.
“I was a beer drinker before graduating to whiskey—and I suspect most folks are the same,” says Dave Smith, a distiller and whiskey blender at St. George Spirits in Alameda, California. “We recognize flavors and aromatics in whiskey that are echoes of what we love in beer because they both come from grain, but go on to different destinations.”
Yuseff Cherney, the brewer and distiller at Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits in San Diego echoes Smith’s sentiments about beer and whiskey and suggests an elevated approach to ordering a beer and a shot. “I typically have two or three beers and move on to whiskey,” says Cherney, “and if I am drinking both at the same time I’m usually drinking a lighter style beer because it’s more thirst quenching.”
If you’re just getting into beer and whiskey as a pairing, Cherney recommends drinking a light style of beer to balance out the bold flavors of the whiskey. But if you already know what flavor profiles you’re going for, he says, choose beers and whiskeys that are similar in taste.
Here’s a beer drinker’s guide to exploring whiskey with suggested pairings.
If you like: vanilla, oak, caramel
- Drink this whiskey style: bourbon
St. George Spirits’ Breaking & Entering Bourbon + Maui Brewing Company’s CoCoNut PorTeR
If you like: sweet meets salty
- Drink this whiskey: moonshine
Colorado Gold’s Corn Whiskey + Left Hand Brewing Company’s Polestar Pilsner
If you like: astringent, spicy, bitter
- Drink this whiskey: rye
Craft pairing: High West Double Rye Whiskey + Epic Brewing Imperial IPA
If you like: peaty, smoky, breakfast cereal
- Drink this whiskey: single malt scotch
Craft pairing: Balcones Distillery Texas Single Malt Whisky + Saint Arnold Brewing Company's Santo black Kölsch
If you like: sweet, tropical, unfiltered
- Drink this whiskey: wheat
Craft pairing: Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey + Three Floyds Brewing Co’s Drunk Monk Hefeweizen