Pairing Cocktails with Food

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It is becoming a popular dining-out trend to pair cocktails with your meal, rather than the traditional bottle of wine. Unlike wine, cocktails can be modified to your palate as well as designed to suit your specific meal. The following are some tips to follow when pairing cocktails with food.

1. Think About Flavors

What flavors and undertones are in your meal? Olive oil in a dish, or a dish centered around seafood, may take you in the direction of a lemon cocktail. Or the richness of a butter sauce may be well balanced by the sweet smoothness of vanilla. Also consider which condiments go well with which entrees and go from there. For example, cranberry and apple notes in a cocktail go well with turkey, chicken, and game birds.

2. Compare And Contrast

A cocktail is meant to compliment a dish. In some ways, this means being similar to the dish. Such is the case with barbeque-bourbon pairings. The smokiness of barbequed meat or charred vegetables of complimented by the smokey, woody flavors that occur naturally in bourbon. On the other hand, if you have a taste for spicy dishes, you may appreciate a cool, smooth cocktail to balance the spice. Can't take the heat? Try a refreshing mojito to soothe your taste buds between bites.

3. Go Herbal

Mint is one typical cocktail herb, found in drinks such as mojitos and mint juleps. It is a herb that is responsible for adding a fresh sweetness to these cocktails. But why stop at mint? A sprig of sage in your tequila can awaken the herbal aroma of chicken or fish. Rosemary in your gin? Orange peel in your vodka? Why not?

4. Avoid Competition

Be sure to avoid cocktails that will overpower the aromas and flavors of your meal. The stronger drinks pair better with the stronger entrees. Something as delicate as oysters on the rocks, for example, would be lost when paired with bourbon. Choose wisely! When in doubt, ask your server for cocktail pairing suggestions.

5. Stay Playful

It doesn't hurt to keep an open mind and approach your food and cocktail pairings with a playful attitude. Instead of a sweet, fruity cocktail with your chocolatey desert, try something dark, dry, and bittersweet. You may be surprised what new flavor profiles your cocktail can open up in your food.

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Bartender's top tip

Creating your own syrups and infusions can dramatically elevate your cocktails. Homemade simple syrup is just the start; you can infuse it with flavors like vanilla, herbs, spices, or even chili to add a unique twist to your drinks. Infusing spirits with fruits, herbs, or spices can also create personalized and complex flavors that you can’t buy off the shelf.

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