Wine and beer may be the first things you think of when serving food but should we exclude spirits? Spirits specialist and former bar manager Alex Turner says think again
‘Once, during Prohibition I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.’ WC Fields
Let’s face it, we need food more than we need alcoholic drink but food can certainly be enhanced when washed down with a glass of something. In most instances people will immediately think of wine when matching alcohol with food and in recent times brewers have also got in on the act as the craft beer movement evolves, knowing that they will find a beer that matches a particular dish. What doesn’t happen that often is people matching spirits with food, they will have an aperitif before the food and a digestive afterwards but will usually stick to wine with the actual food.
Well, spirits and mixed drinks can complement food just as well as wine can, in fact for most dishes there is a mixed drink that will work. The rationale for this is quite basic and has wine to thank; as the wine industry has developed tasting notes that allow guests, sommeliers and servers to match food with their wine we can apply the same tasting principals to mixed drinks. But whereas the flavours in a bottle of wine are ‘set’ the flavours in a mixed drink can be adjusted to perfectly suit the dish, a little more bitter, a dash more citrus a touch more dry.
Matching food with mixed drinks
Here are some basic guidelines to help you start matching food with mixed drinks and a few suggested drinks to;
1. White wines work with fish, white meats, salads etc as do lighter spirits such as vodka, gin, white rums and even Tequila. The citrus notes in whites wines like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay can be matched with the citrus notes in a mixed drink such as sour, Collins or mojito
2. Red wines work well with red meats, cheeses and richer foods as do brown spirits such as brandies, whiskies, dark rums and other spirits that have been aged as they often have similar flavour characteristics from the oak. Matching bourbon and scotch whiskies with simple red meat dishes such as burgers, chilli’s and stews.
3. Mixed drinks with fruit juices like cranberry work well with many styles of foods, especially if you use lighter spirits such as gin and vodka as the refreshment and crispness help cut through the flavours of the food.
4. Carbonated mixers work very well with food as they especially good at cutting through the oiliness and fatty mouth feel. Also, as they are sweet they counterpoint the sourness.
5. Hot and spicy foods are often a challenge for wine to match with; most people tend to go for beer instead. Mixed drinks on the other hand love spicy food especially if they have cooling ingredients like cucumber, mint and herbs.
6. Meats that are often served with herbs such as lamb with rosemary and chicken with tarragon also work well with mixed drinks; try roasted lamb with a red snapper (gin bloody Mary) with rosemary garnish.
7. Vermouth is a great ingredient to use with food; drier styles work with lighter dishes, Rosso vermouth with red meats and the sweeter Bianco with buttery sauces and desserts. A reverse Manhattan (1/3rd whiskey, 2/3rds Rosso vermouth and bitters - see below) works particularly well with roasted red meats.
8. Don’t be afraid to experiment and work with the kitchen to see what ideas they have.
15ml Rye of bourbon whiskey
45ml Rosso vermouth
Stir over cubed ice and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cocktail cherry
Even if matching food and spirits is something you are willing to consider at the moment there are two excellent ways of introducing spirits to the food occasion; pre and post dinner.
Most people with an interest of food and drink will understand the ways spirits stimulate the appetite hence the popularity of the martini, daiquiri and sidecar as pre-dinner drinks. Having a short list of three cocktails and mixed drinks is a way of increasing spirits sales and adding to your guests dining experience. Even the humble gin and tonic is something many guests would consider before a meal but often go straight to the wine as they don’t happen to think of it when sitting at the table.
50ml White rum
25ml Fresh lime juice
2 Bar spoons of caster sugar
Shake hard over cubed ice, strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass
20ml Lemon juice
Shake over cubed ice and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist
The same can be said for after dinner drinks and in most cases is an easier sell as usually our guests have already been drinking alcohol. A short list of spirits such as brandies, whiskies, aged rums and even Tequilas can often lead to guest making an additional purchase.
Many people these days don’t opt for dessert at the end of the meal and maybe go straight onto tea or coffee, however by offering some small choice of after dinner cocktail might persuade them to have something with their coffee.
Drinks like the Espresso martini, treacle and toasted almond are ideal for after dinner;
15ml Coffee liqueur
25ml Espresso coffee (chilled)
Dash of sugar syrup
Shake hard over cubed ice and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass, garnish with three coffee beans
50ml golden rum
1 Brown sugar cube
Dash orange bitters
15ml Apple juice
In a whisky glass; crush the sugar cube with a bar spoon, add the apple juice and stir until dissolved, add the remaining ingredients fill with cubed ice and garnish with an orange twist
Pour into a warmed brandy glass, ignite and allow to burn for 5 seconds while sprinkling with cinnamon dust