There are a lot of different kinds of bourbon out there to choose from. They could be aged, use a variety of mash blends, or have different proof levels. “Proof” refers to the amount of alcohol in the bottle most commonly read as ABV, or Alcohol by Volume (via Food Network). The higher the proof, the higher the alcohol content, so is it better to have higher or lower-proofed bourbon when pairing it with desserts?
According to Whisky Advocate, high-proof bourbon used to be the norm until the 1960s when distillers began to water down their product to an average ABV of 40% or 43%. This change highlighted the sweeter notes in the spirit like caramel and vanilla while mitigating the intense spice characteristics found in higher-proof bottles. Today, the average bottle of bourbon continues to sit at that 40% to 50% ABV benchmark because consumers like how much smoother it is. Rabbit Hole Distillery says that you are easily able to find other bourbons with 80 to 100-proof alcohol but these kinds of bottles exhibit a harsher taste. The higher ABV bourbons, therefore, don’t pair as well with desserts due to their intense nature, and instead, the lower ABV spirits will go down smoother and pair better with lighter-tasting dishes.
However, you can absolutely go for a bottle of higher-proof stuff if you can find foods to match the intensity of the bourbon like dark chocolate (via Whiskey Reviewer).