Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a cocktail to pair with your meal, and the right cocktail can complement a dish by either matching or contrasting its flavors.
The great thing is you don’t need to be a master mixologist to dream up exciting pairings.
The key to great pairings is to consider flavors, just as you would do with wine. Olive oil in a dish might consider lemon as in a Lemon Drop, while something in a butter sauce might work great with a vanilla infused drink.
One thing to consider is how your cocktail will match or contrast the flavors in a particular dish. For example, Bourbon is often paired with barbecue because the smoky flavor of the meat goes well with the smoky, woody flavor of the spirit. By the same token, something hot and spicy like an Asian dish or a spicy tuna roll would work well with the cooling flavors of a cucumber-watermelon Mojito.
When contrasting or complementing flavors, you need to make certain that the cocktail choice won’t overpower the dish. Pairing whisky with raw oysters is a bit of overkill, but the whisky would work well with duck or even a sloppy joe. A Manhattan would be a poor choice for sushi, but a cucumber martini would be quite complimentary.
Herbs in your cocktail also add a bit of interest and flavor, and give your drink a chance to bond with the meal. If you use herbs to match similar flavors in your drink and food, you add an extra layer of complexity to your meal and cocktail. You already know mint gives Juleps and Mojitos a delightful boost, so why not pair sage with tequila or gin with rosemary? Remember, you don’t always need to muddle; sometimes just a sprig as garnish provides the aromatic touch you need.
Just like wine pairing, when pairing cocktails pay attention to mouthfeel as well as flavor. Think of it this way, milk has a different body from water and orange juice has a completely different mouthfeel than tomato juice. Don’t pair a particularly alcoholic cocktail, such as an Old Fashioned, with a dish that has especially subtle flavors. Just like with wine, match the weight of the drink with the course, a rich Brandy Alexander or a similarly full-bodied cocktail will work beautifully for the end of the meal.
Still, you might want to try some unconventional combinations: instead of serving very sweet cocktails with chocolate desserts, try lighter, more acidic cocktails made from rich-flavored brown spirits, such as cognac and aged whisky. For confections that incorporate fruit, try sweeter cocktails to temper tartness.
Contrary to popular belief, cocktails are lower in alcohol than you would think. Once a spirit is combined with juice and simple syrup, diluted by being shaken or stirred with ice, the resulting drink can have an alcohol content lower than 20 percent, close to that of a Port or Sherry.
Just remember, there are no rules and all that matters is that a pairing works.
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