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Get in the Spirit: Cheese and Liquor Pairings

Since the beginning of time, people have celebrated the union of booze and cheese, with, uh, more booze and cheese. And for good reason. The complex terroir of various alcohols and cheeses are just begging to come together, and when you find the right combination, it is nothing short of magical.

But while there are infinite options for wine and cheese pairings, and we’d certainly never advise you to stop experimenting, sometimes you’re in more of a cocktail mood. Or perhaps you’re craving something strong and are looking to sip your favorite liquor straight up– while you enjoy a delicious side of cheese, of course. Good news: it turns out most spirits lend themselves exceptionally well to cheese. That is, if you know what qualities to look for. Here are a few suggestions of the best cheese to pair with vodka, gin, rum, and bourbon. Cheers!


Vodka and Cheese

Pairing vodka and cheese may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that this clean spirit appreciates nuanced cheeses that help bring out the subtleties of its flavor. Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, our friends over at Cowgirl Creamery, explain how pairing cheeses with vodka follows the same logic as more conventional cheese and alcohol pairings:

Like wine or beer, these vodkas from Hangar 1 will reduce or enhance the flavors in cheese. Big, full flavored cheeses might clash with the subtleties in the vodka, while mellow, creamy cheeses will compliment. 

The cheesemaking duo recommends pairing Hanger 1’s Kaffir Lime Vodka with tangy goat cheese like Humboldt Fog, Mandarin Blossom Vodka with their own sweet triple cow’s milk cheese, Mt. Tam, and Buddha’s Hand Citron Vodka with a fresh sheep’s milk ricotta

If you’re looking for a great summertime happy hour snack, we’d also recommend sipping a bloody mary alongside hard, aged, grating cheese, like Parmigiano Reggiano.


Gin and Cheese

When picking out a cheese to nibble on while you sip your favorite gin cocktail, think bright and springy. Something fresh that will bring out the spirit’s citrusy, botanical notes. Resident cheese courtesan and gin aficionado, Madame Fromage, swears by Murray’s Cheese’s Ginepro alongside a G&T:

Ginepro, a.ka. The Cheese of Hope, is so delicious precisely because it combines the bright citrusy tang of a sheep’s milk cheese with the warm, piney ting of juniper. It’s both sweet and astringent – there’s the cocktail – and, frankly, it will change the way you think of Pecorino (predictably sharp, sometimes salty to a fault).

Alexander Walker and James Buchanan of the spirit blog Alexander & James recommend pairing Tanqueray London Dry Gin with Irish goat cheese. Feeling like something not-so-piney? Try flowery Hendrick’s gin in our Herbal Gin Fizz cocktail — pair it with a goat’s milk triple cream like Nettle Meadow Kunik.


Rum and Cheese

Craving something a little richer? Don’t worry, when looking for spirit-worthy cheeses, you don’t have to tiptoe around the cheese case, picking out only the light, subtle and fresh. Rum is the perfect excuse to drink while enjoying a generous slice of rich, nutty cheese. As Barrie Lynn, The Cheese Impresario puts it,

Dark sipping rums deliver flavors of sweetness. They have a complex range of flavors from tropical fruit, smoky oak, vanilla, citrus, cocoa, spices, and a richness that can stand up to big-flavored cheeses such as a 10-year aged Wisconsin Cheddar, or even a parmesan. 

She enjoys her rum with Fenugreek Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm, Espresso BellaVitano from Sartori Cheese, Aged Brick Spread from Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, and Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar. Want even more depth? Get warm and fuzzy with our spiced Rum Old Fashioned cocktail recipe and a slice of sweet, extra-aged Gouda.


Bourbon and Cheese

If you’re serious about getting into the spirit-matching game, you’ll have to experiment with what is perhaps cheese’s most complex pairing partner, bourbon. Bourbon is so compatible with cheese, it earned a whole section in our ultimate pairings guide, Cheese+. The trick is to pay attention to the flavor notes in your bourbon’s long finishes. You’ll want a strong, aged cheese that can offer its own finish while still complementing the spirit’s sweet, oaky notes.

For beginners, we recommend a traditional Kentucky bourbon (such as Woodford Reserve or Buffalo Trace) with a firm, aged cheese, like BelGioioso American Grana. If you’re sipping a spicy, earthier variety (like Knob Creek) pair it with a funky American cheese like Capriole Farmstead Goat Cheese Mont St. Francis. And if you’re looking to complement an intense, syrupy bourbon, try a smokey blue or a sweet, aged gouda.

Amanda Minoff

Amanda recently graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine with a degree in English Literature and Art History. She is a reader and writer of fiction and loves cheese that tells a good story.

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