Wine has always been the first to spring to mind when you think of food and drink pairings, while cocktails seemed relegated to pre- or post-dinner, enjoyed without the intrusion of food flavors, and vice versa.
However, in our modern cocktail era there is a growing trend for cocktail and food pairing and an increased collaboration between chefs and bartenders. Craft beers and cocktails are even getting in on the action when it comes to specifically designed food and beverage pairing menus, which bring out the best in both the dishes and the drinks.
Previously, many have been scared to entertain these pairings, worried that the high alcohol content will overwhelm diners in both taste and tolerance, but the beauty of cocktails is their adaptability. They can be downsized, weakened, strengthened, tweaked and perfected to work with any accompanying meal.
Tips for perfect pairing
Compare and contrast
Complement may work better than matching exactly. Find out the flavor of the dish and act accordingly, matching bold drink flavors with subtle food, and rich dishes with a light beverage. Sweet drinks with sweet desserts may be a sugary overload, as could be a spicy dish with a very spicy cocktail. Instead, think mixing salty, sharp, or nutty meals with a sugary old fashioned, or a light fish dish with a slightly stronger cocktail. Spicy dishes pair well with sweet or soft flavored cocktails, while smoky flavored cocktails such as whiskey or bourbon-based drinks pair with barbecued meat dishes.
Find the major flavor
Look at the dish as a whole and find where the strongest or most distinctive flavor is when you are looking at what to focus on – this could be the side dish or sauce instead of the main attraction – then pair with the flavor that complements it.
Look at the fat
Cocktails with higher alcohol content pair well with richer, fattier dishes as they help cut the fat and cleanse the palate. Heavy barbecue dishes, for example, go well with bourbon or whisky cocktails, due to the smokiness behind each component.
Match the cuisine
Matching a sake-based cocktail with a Japanese meal, or tequila with Mexican may make pairing simple and continue a theme through the dinner party.
Match the size
If you are serving multiple courses, try to match the sizes of the drink and food. i.e. a shorter drink for starters and dessert and a longer one with the main. No one wants to be downing the dregs of last course’s drink with the start of an unpaired subsequent course.
Build to a crescendo
Many menus which incorporate cocktail pairing may start with a softer and lighter option, before building on flavors and boldness throughout the courses.
Think of the herbs
As with food, cocktails can be seasonal, using fresh ingredients, herbs and spices. Craft cocktails are extremely popular right now and can use a variety of herbs, making them easy to match with a meal. Obviously lamb and mint are a match made in heaven, while red meats can benefit from a rosemary-infused cocktail.