So you’ve planned the perfect food menu, and are now looking at complementing your gastronomic spread with something a little more than just wine.
Food and drink pairing isn’t really rocket science: it all boils down to the individual’s taste. Of course there are a few general rules to avoid stepping into a minefield and the ensuing disaster. But these are mere guidelines; the choice of meat and spirit that’ll keep you in good spirits still lies with your preference. And remember that with cocktails, you have a blank canvas to work with. Brilliant!
So broadly speaking, the complex flavours in handcrafted cocktails complement dishes well by either matching or contrasting their flavours. So the woody, smoky flavour of bourbon, for example, will pair well with the smoky flavour of barbecue meat; whilst spicy dishes need cooling flavours, like say, a cucumber-watermelon Mojito.
Seafood and more subtle flavours pair better with light spirits or light spirit cocktails; citrusy drinks and ceviche, for instance. Darker, richer and deeper spirits like brandies and whiskies or the classic martini need more robust food flavours to match – strong cheeses, game or aged meats, rich seafood or shellfish… you get the idea.
Turkey and roast chicken goes well with stirred cocktails because they don’t have specific alcohol notes.
The thing to keep in mind is that you want to enhance the taste of the meat, not compete with it, so don’t pick a particularly alcoholic cocktail like a whiskey, that will overpower a serving of raw oysters, or a Bordeaux that will overwhelm a sushi platter.
Paying attention not only to flavour, but also to mouthfeel, (apple juice has a whole different body than tomato juice, which has a whole different one than seltzer) will avoid dulling the palate.
To manage this rather tricky balance of power, try lowering the level of alcohol with water or juices. Spirits actually absorb fat (think rich fatty foods like foie gras) and if mixed right, can cleanse the palate and prepare it for the next course.
It is also perhaps a no-brainer to pair cuisine with spirit origin. Sake-based cocktails like the saketini for Japanese cuisine, for instance; tequila to fit a Mexican-inspired meal and brandy with any French cuisine.
Taking the cocktail pairing a step further into desserts, we look at everyone’s favourite first – chocolate. Instead of serving very sweet cocktails with chocolate desserts, have lighter, more acidic ones made from rich-flavored brown spirits, such as cognac and aged whisky.
Avoid the decadence of a chocolate martini for the same mousse (too much chocolate, obviously. Elements with the same flavour take away from the experience.) For confections that incorporate fruit, sweeter cocktails will temper their tartness.