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Move over wine - there’s a new pairing player in town when it comes to dinner parties.
While the popularity of cocktails and mixology has been increasing for some time, cocktail experts say more and more people are turning to craft creations regarding their food.
"The idea that wine is the only pairable beverage with food is giving way to a more culturally inclusive, and frankly, more exciting point of view where almost any beverage can be paired with food," says Derek Brown, author, bar owner, and spirits expert. "I've seen restaurants...create a cocktail for the sole purpose of accompanying the dish."
According to a market analysis report by Grandview Research, the cocktail mixers market size is expected to grow by 8.7 percent by 2030.
The reasons for the interest in home bartending and cocktail pairings, in general, may be varied. When the pandemic closed down bars and restaurants across the globe, consumers started experimenting with cocktails at home. This included everything from take-home kits to live cocktail-making classes with bartenders. A 2020 survey by Bacardi states that "20 percent of customers are now keen to sample drinks they would never have tried pre-lockdown."
Additionally, adds Brown, the food we're pairing with alcohol has become much more global. "...There is no longer just French and Italian fine dining. You have Filipino, Nordic, Afro-Futurism, you name it. And with such a diverse cadre of restaurants and bars, it only makes sense to broaden the perspective of what pairs with food."
Adding to that is the desire to host again - notably dinner parties. A survey from ButcherBox says that Americans planning to host in their homes rose by 25 percent over pre-pandemic levels.
Pairing at Home
If you want to try food and cocktail pairings at home, Brown has some tips to help you get started.
"The best chefs and bartenders are utilizing their imagination," he says, which he encourages home bartenders to do as well. "If Chablis and oysters work, why not use a Rickey cocktail (gin, lime, soda) with a mineral-y water like Badoit? If Port and bleu cheese work, why not make a Poart Sangaree (Port, lemon, bitters, sugar)?".
Mostly, his advice is not to overthink it. If you like a dry martini with a tomahawk steak, go for it.
"Don't follow the rules. Period. To this day, my favorite pairing is sweet tea and grilled cheese sandwiches. There's no science behind that, and no sommelier will tell you it's the right (or wrong) pairing".
That being said, Champagne cocktails can go with almost everything. Brown says it can cut through a dish's butter, fat, and salt. It cleanses the palate with each sip, and every bite "is brand new and not the collections of flavors from everything you've eaten." Here's a simple Champagne cocktail Brown provided that may help get you started with your pairings:
Recipe by Derek Brown
1 sugar cube
6 dashes aromatic bitters
4 ounces brut Champagne (or Non-alcoholic Sparkling Wine Alternative such as Thomson & Scott “Noughty” Sparkling Chardonnay)
Lemon peel for garnish
Coat a sugar cube with bitters and add to a wine glass. Pour chilled Champagne over the cube and garnish with lemon peel.
He swears by pairing it with scrambled eggs, by the way.
Another tip? Experiment with non-alcoholic cocktails using citrus and bubbles. This way, you can experiment all you want without getting tipsy. It also works for your sober-curious guests or practicing ‘mindful drinking’. Here's another example from his book Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No and Low-Alcohol Cocktails.
Recipe by Derek Brown
2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1 oz. Ginger Syrup
1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
½ oz. Aquafaba
6 drops of Salt Tincture
Combine ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon wheel.
Have Fun with It
And at the end of the day, don't take yourself too seriously. "I think the real reason food and beverage pairings work is not just because it adds a new sophisticated layer, but because it's fun,” says Brown. “It's fun to see how things work together and it adds a surprising element".
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