How to

Food and Cocktail Pairings 101

Wine, it’s time to shuffle over. Cocktails and food are about to get chummy

When it comes to having a drink with dinner, it’s no surprise that most people gravitate towards wine. The wine and food pairing code was cracked a long time ago; reds with hearty, meaty meals and whites with fresh, lighter dishes.

Although any sommelier or vino enthusiast will let you know it’s more complex than that, for at-home drinking purposes, the red/white rule is largely fail proof.

Pairing cocktails with food, however, is a completely different story.

Cocktails tend to be high in both sugar and alcohol – two dominant elements that food flavours often can’t compete with. After all, a drink should compliment a dish, not overpower it.

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.

Of course, you can try it for yourself at home. Here are five guidelines to help get you started:

Same, same or different

When tackling flavour, you either want to complement or contrast. If cooking meat on the barbeque, the smoky flavour of a whisky or bourbon-based cocktail would enhance the smokiness of the meat. On the other hand, a spicy Asian or Mexican dish will taste delicious with the help of a refreshing Mojito. 

Add Herbs

Infusions are one great way to pack foodie flavours into alcohol, but an easier and quicker method is adding herbs or spices directly to your cocktail. If you’re tucking into a lamb dish, chuck a few mint sprigs into your drink. Gin and rosemary is a classic pair, and sage and tequila get on quite well. 

Consider texture

Like food, mouthfeel and texture is key when it comes to cocktails. Rich, saucy meat dishes won’t match well with thick cocktails, as the two similar consistencies will overwhelm the palate. Similarly, frozen cocktails could numb the mouth, leaving you unable to appreciate the food’s flavours. However the pairing of fizzy cocktails with heavy meals is spot on as it cuts through the dishes’ richness. 

Ease up on the booze

Most cocktails contain ice, which dilutes the spirit and the alcohol content. However some cocktails are stronger than others. An Old Fashioned and Martinis both contain a high percentage of alcohol – not ideal for subtle dishes or lighter food.

Use your logic

Cocktail-food matchmaking needn’t be daunting, nor do you have to be a master mixologist to get it right. A creamy pasta isn’t going to work with a rum cocktail but might taste great with a vodka one. 

For more tasty tips on food pairing, check out our ideas for how you can match beautiful seasonal fruits with your favourite tipples here.

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