The Perfect Pair

In Features, In The Kitchen, Magazine, Tips and Advice by RI Magazine

Wine and beer pairings are common on menus today. Cocktails? Not so much. We aim to remedy that.

BY JAMES CLELAND, Mixologist for Boardroom Spirits

Ever notice how there are plenty of wine and beer pairing suggestions for food, but that’s not really the case for cocktails? This month we’d like to remedy that. But first and foremost, cocktails are relatively new in the grand scheme of alcohol imbibing. Beer and wine have been in existence for literal millennia while what we know as a cocktail has only been around for about two centuries; hence, there is a long tradition of drinking lower proof alcohols with food. Today, there are more people willing to incorporate spirits into food pairings but it is often done without finesse.

That’s because it’s difficult. Cocktails can create several problems with food pairings. First, cocktails are often much smaller drinks compared to a beer or wine. A standard glass of wine in a restaurant is between 5 and 6 ounces all coming from a single source making it easy to only do a 1 to 3 ounce pour for a single course in a meal. This is also true of a 12- to 16-ounce draft beer. Cocktails, on the other hand, are often only 3 or 4 ounces with a half a dozen ingredients in sometimes very small amounts. Creating a smaller version that is consistent and delicious is not always feasible.

The second issue with pairing cocktails is the intensity of the flavor. Because the individual drink is smaller, your palate won’t suffer fatigue in only a few ounces. Since a drink pairing is supposed to enhance the flavor of a dish, having a drink that overwhelms the flavor of the food is counter to the intended purpose. There are plenty of mild cocktails out there that can be used. It is just a matter of using the correct cocktail for the correct dish.

Finally, cocktails generally have a higher alcohol by volume than a glass of wine or beer. This alcohol content, in low concentrations, can encourage saliva production and enhance the flavors of food when a beverage. When the concentration goes up, the alcohol can dull the palate which is counterproductive to a pairing.

Here are two examples of dishes with cocktail pairings. Hopefully as more people get interested in liquor and cocktail culture consumers will start seeing more food pairings utilizing these broad categories. For now, use these tips and examples to try your own pairings at home.

Dish Pairing #1:
THE MEAL: Moroccan Spiced Lamb Chops
For a dish like this, especially with something as rich as lamb, I would do something crisp and herbal to function as a palate cleanse between bites. Also, when dealing with a very powerful main ingredient such as lamb, slightly higher alcohol content is OK, as it’s a tall order to blunt the taste of something so strong. The following recipe is also great because it is an equal parts cocktail allowing for as small or large of a beverage as you need.

THE COCKTAIL: Last Word
¾ oz Boardroom gin
¾ oz green chartreuse
¾ oz Luxardo maraschino
¾ oz lime juice
DIRECTIONS: Assemble all ingredients in a shaker, then shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

Dish Pairing #2:
THE MEAL: Poached Red Argentinian Shrimp with Leeks and a Black Bean/Braised Pork Vinaigrette
With a dish like this I would pull out a lesser known tropical Tiki drink with really clean flavors but some sweetness to offset the Szechuan chili oil. The taste will also be reminiscent of a crowd favorite, coconut shrimp. The following recipe is great because it has plenty of non-alcoholic ingredients helping keep the alcohol by volume food friendly. It is also easily proportioned (4:4:2:1) allowing for smaller or larger sized drinks.

THE COCKTAIL: Chi Chi
2 oz Boardroom vodka
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz coconut cream
½ oz lime juice

DIRECTIONS: Assemble all ingredients in a shaker tin then shake and strain into an ice filled tumbler.

James Cleland is a mixologist “responsible for customer delight” at the Boardroom Spirits distillery in Lansdale, PA. Boardroom Spirits is devoted to making high-quality hand-crafted spirits in a sustainable manner. To learn more, click HERE.

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