Spirits Pairing for Every Plate
Enhance your overall food experience by pairing meals with spirits. Explore how the different spirits flavor profiles can marry food profiles to create an unforgettable pairing.
Spirits & Food Pairing Tips
Although it can be more challenging to pair spirits and cocktails with food, use our tips to find the best choice for your plate.
- The spirit or cocktail should complement the food, not overpower it. For instance, try sipping on plain vodka with a rich, smoked fish dish, like smoked salmon blinis. Don’t like vodka straight? Opt for a vodka tonic or vodka gimlet.
- Match the weight or intensity of the spirit with the food. Lighter spirits like vodka, gin, light rum or tequila blanco go with lighter foods, while heavier spirits like bourbon, dark rum, tequila añejo or cognac stand up to richer, flavored foods.
- When pairing a cocktail with food consider the overall texture and intensity of the drink. Cocktails with lighter, fresher textures and intensities pair best with fresh and lightly prepared foods. A cocktail with a heavier texture — including those with whiskey, cognac or aged rum — pair best with heavier dishes, including grilled and aged cheeses.
- If the cocktail and food share a common ingredient, then you probably have a match. Are there herbs in the dish? Pair it with an herbal gin or an herb-accented cocktail.
- Decide if you want to complement or contrast the food. For instance, bourbon’s sweet and smoky richness complements foods that are sweet and smoky (think fatty meats like bacon), but it’ll contrast salty or acidic foods (like an aged gouda). If you have a spicy dish, pair it with a cool, refreshing cocktail like a cucumber mint mojito.
- Don’t be afraid to match a dish with the spirit’s origin. For example, the rum in a mojito pairs well with Caribbean cuisine while Mexican food and tequila are always great partners.
Spirits & Food Pairing Basics
When it comes to pairing spirits with your dishes, don’t be intimidated. Food pairings can enhance the character of spirits just as spirits can enhance the character of food. Try these pairings at your next get-together.
To enhance the bright flavors of pickled vegetables and fresh fruit, reach for vodka. It also helps cut through rich soups, especially if mixed with seltzer.
Bourbon’s subtle sweetness matches pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes, while its hints of caramel and toffee pair with dark chocolate.
Aged cognac is best paired with charcuterie, nuts and harder, aged cheeses.
Rye whiskey’s spicy component is a match with savory dishes. Try rye whiskey with smoked brisket or even cedar-plank salmon for a great experience.
Scotch’s rich complexity and smoky elements make a beautiful match with brisket, beef or lamb.
Unaged tequila excels with green salads, vegetables and lighter soups.
The citrus and pepper notes of tequila reposado go very well with white meats.
Its whiskey-like characteristics work excellently with chocolate-based desserts, sweet potato pie and spiced-fruit desserts.
Pair softer, creamier cheeses with young brandies or fruit brandies.
The highly botanical aromas of gin complement rich and salty appetizers and dips containing dried fruits or garden herbs.
Its smoothness and grainy character complement a wide variety of dishes, including stuffing, potatoes, squash and beans.
Light rum pairs best with equally light foods, such as fresh seafood in a light, citrus dressing.
With its woody and caramelized notes, dark or aged rum pairs well with grilled foods, like steak and ribs, or with rich desserts, like chocolate and pineapple-based dishes.
Pair the major flavor component to the dessert. Irish creams on ice complement coffee flavors.
Tart liqueurs are typically consumed as aperitifs. They’re also refreshing and palate cleansing between courses.