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How to Pair Cocktails With Food: 5 Tips for Food Pairings

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

It’s often thought that only wine can pair with food and that cocktails are something to be had either before or after a meal. Mixologists beg to differ. One benefit of pairing cocktails with food is that they can suit a broad range of flavors rather than matching a single dish or ingredient.



5 Tips for Pairing Cocktails With Food

Cocktails are for more than just finger foods. Here are some things to keep in mind when making your own food-and-cocktail pairings:

  1. Balance flavor profiles. When crafting your own cocktails to pair with food, look for a balance between marrying and cutting through flavors; acidity in the drink can help cut the fattiness of certain foods, while introducing floral and herbaceous elements in a beverage can reinforce subtle savory or vegetal notes in both appetizers and desserts.
  2. Match to cuisines. When in doubt, choose food and drink pairings based on country of origin. Margaritas and Palomas are the ideal pairing for Mexican foods like tacos. If you enjoy sake with your sushi, try serving a sake cocktail alongside Japanese food. A Japanese Whisky Highball is delicious with yakitori-style foods. Try vodka cocktails, like a Moscow Mule or Bloody Mary, with smoked fish and blinis (or bagels!). Spritzes, Negronis, and vermouth cocktails are delicious with hard Italian cheeses like parmesan or pecorino and cured meats like prosciutto.
  3. Either start with the base spirit. Choose base spirits that will bring out the flavor of your food. Smoky mezcal or aged tequila will bring out the depth in chocolate desserts and dark mole sauces. Floral gin goes well with delicate seafood—try a gin martini with a plate of oysters. For meat, try an assertive cocktail like an old fashioned: Bourbon pairs especially well with duck.
  4. Or the main dish. Try building a cocktail around an ingredient in a dish. For example, pair an apple dessert with apple cider punch. One of the reasons a Margarita works so well with tacos is the lime juice, which brings out the lime juice you're (hopefully) squeezing all over your tacos! A Paloma made with fresh grapefruit and simple syrup (rather than grapefruit soda) will also highlight acidic, citrusy flavors.
  5. Consider alcohol content. Keep alcohol levels in mind as you plan your cocktail and food menu. If you're going to serve multiple drinks with a multi-course meal, keep the alcohol content low so your guests can enjoy their dining experience.

Learn More

Learn more about mixology from award-winning bartenders. Refine your palate, explore the world of spirits, and shake up the perfect cocktail for your next gathering with the MasterClass Annual Membership.

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