Mixologist meets foodie: how to pair cocktails and food
Wine has been paired with food since the year dot… whenever that was… with US winemakers making it 'a thing' in the 80s.
All top restaurants make recommendations on which wines go with each dish on their menu, and most wine bottles provide suggestions for food to accompany that wine.
But what about cocktails? You may be surprised to learn there's more to mixed drinks than aperitifs and digestifs!
Many hospitality aficionados still maintain that pairing mixed drinks with food is a fool's errand.
“The idea that cocktails can’t pair well with food is outdated,” Abigail Gullo of Compère Lapin tells Food Republic. “Cocktails can absolutely be paired with food — you just have to very careful and precise.”
And while there is a science to pairing cocktails with food, it brings a unique aspect to a dinner party with a bit more fun and entertainment to boot. If you combine cocktails with brilliant glassware and cocktail accessories then you’ll be presenting a dinner that wows even the foodiest of foodies. Check out our guide to the best glassware for more.
According to Toast Magazine; “The gap between the kitchen and the bar is narrowing, giving bartenders opportunity to play food and cocktail matchmaker, and find harmony between the two”.
Experimental dining is on trend and cocktails are the perfect answer for a host who wants to push the boundaries at their dinner party.
It’s time to shake things up with food and cocktail pairing, but how?
Keep cultural alignment.
This is pretty simple: if you’re serving Mexican dishes, you can’t go wrong with Tequila based cocktails. How about Japanese cuisine with Japanese inspired, sake-based cocktails? Try our Sake-Collins for a twist on a simple classic.
Cultural focused pairings can be based on complements but also contrasts.
More softly flavoured foods like white fish and chicken can be paired with bold-flavoured cocktails. Whereas if you're using stronger, spicy flavours in your dish,you will want to keep it light and refreshing for your drink.
In fact, complements and contrasts is where it’s at.
You don’t want to match food or you’ll over-emphasize flavours. “Complements and contrasts are the way to go for pairings because they keep your senses invigorated and looking forward to the next bite or sip,“ says The Spruce Eats.
Simplify! Make sure you don’t confuse flavours or exhaust the palate.
Will Elliott of Maison Premiere and Sauvage in Brooklyn says a cocktail might “have to be a little plain Jane on the surface” to work with food pairings - sometimes tricky for a bartender! Remember you are trying to complement the food not compete with it.
Modify cocktails to suit and reduce an overly complex cocktail down to some more basic flavours to enhance the dish you’re serving.
It's ok to play it safe to begin with
You don’t have to go over the top – you can create wine-based cocktails, or you can pair small canape style dishes with cocktails instead of a fully blown, 5 course dinner!
World Class bartender, James Fowler tells Diageo Bar Academy; “It can be something as small as a one bite garnish – but that one bite will accelerate the drink to a new level. I’ve seen pickled eggs offered with Bloody Marys, Boquerones (Vinegar and Citrus cured anchovies) with Margaritas, and fine rum old fashioned served with beautiful chocolate truffles.”
And did you know that where wine coats the palate, spirits actually cleanse it? Plus, flavours you find in wine – mango, strawberry and blackberry to name a few - are also easily produced in cocktails. Some might say more easily!
So, don’t be afraid to try cocktail and food pairing. Making a cocktail with eye-catching bar tools and serving in an elegant glass will make more impact than a boring old glass of wine - and the possibilities are endless!