The art of cocktail pairing
In June, we were presented with a unique opportunity to learn about some of the shifting trends in food & beverage pairings. While traditional pairings in the past focused on wine, producers and consumers are driving the market in some wonderful new directions with outstanding results!
As Washington and the rest of the country see a dramatic rise in the amount of craft distillers, event professionals are seeing a huge shift in the way people are enjoying beverages. This shift has taken the launch of food and beverage pairings to new heights and created new menu options that are now offered alongside traditional catering menus. Pairing spirits with small bites is just one of the ways in which the industry is seeing unique presentations of local and international spirits in the events world.
In June, Monica Newby with A Grand Affaire Catering and Duos, presented us with a fabulous experience and presentation. Not only was the food beautifully prepared, but the bites complimented the artfully crafted cocktails from Heritage Distilling to perfection. In addition, Monica presented some outstanding and insightful information on beverage trends and pairings that we thought we would share with our members and readers. How can you bring local spirits to the forefront of your next event?? Well here are some exciting and interesting ways…
The process of pairing food with liquor is similar to that of pairing food to wine. The objective is to draw out the tasting notes and flavor profile of the spirits while keeping in mind to reduce any heavy or loud elements that may conflict with these flavors. For the June event, we started by selecting a Whiskey, a Vodka and a Gin based drink for the tray passed portion of the event as a way to showcase the many distilled spirits that Heritage Distillery creates. These are also the most popular types of liquor we have found to be served at events these days, so Heritage is right on trend with their offerings.
Vodka remains as the most versatile and popular liquor at events. From a savory dirty martini to a tart cape cod (vodka cranberry with lime), vodka is still the king of cocktails. And now with the popularity of flavored vodkas you can create just about any sweet, spicy or savory cocktail with this versatile base liquor. Sweet concoctions like whipped cream vodka appealed to the younger “beginner” drinker. And for those more old school veterans there was always the martini. An important point to note, the original classic martini was most definitely gin based, however, the vodka martini is now considered the modern martini. Speaking of gin, when I started catering in 1998, gin used to be second in line. This was likely due to the popularity of the almighty gin & tonic. And those purists that prefer a classic gin martini or a Gibson, shaken not stirred” of course! However, with the help of the micro-distillery, as well as the big boys like Makers Mark and Jack Daniels, whiskey has taken over that coveted spot. With so many varieties of whiskey from a carmelly Bourbon (still my favorite), spicy rye, and classic blended Canadian, you can create subtle difference in a cocktail with just a change of bourbon type. While we chose the base liquors to go with our hors d’oeuvres, Heritage Distillery took this one step further by creating miniature cocktail recipes using these spirit suggestions.
For the whiskey, the Double Barrel Rye Spiced Manhattan was chosen specifically because of its spice notes. We paired this with our 5 Spice Duck Confit to enhance the cinnamon notes from using our five spice blend. The fig preserves increase the sugar profile in an attempt to soften any sharpness of the liquor. The brie along with the sweet potato also adds a creaminess to create a smooth finish.
For the vodka pairing, we selected the Citrus vodka to pair with our Stuffed Squash Blossom with Smoked Olives and Gherkin-Caper Aioli. Heritage ran with this, creating the Lemon Drop in a Squeeze. As anyone who loves chicken piccata knows, capers and lemon are a classic pairing. Similar to a piccata dish, or many other fried foods, the fried element provides a textural component along with the perfect background for citrus and briny foods. The smoked olives add to the brininess while also adding a surprise element. We then included the fat content from the aioli and the farm cheese in the stuffing to mellow the sharp flavors of the brines and citrus.
Finally, we selected the Elk Rider Crisp Gin to pair with our Hamachi Crudo course. Heritage then created the Rosemary Gin Rickey. We took advantage of the sweet orange peel that gives Elk Rider Gin its smooth citrus finish by pairing it with a classic crudo. Our Hamachi Crudo includes orange segments to enhance that orange profile and we added in some floral notes using micro orchids along with micro coriander to match the herb notes of the gin and the rosemary. Olive oil pearls and the Hamachi itself rounds out the pairing by providing an element to coat the tongue, lessening the impact of any tartness or dryness.
For the dessert portion of the event, we selected a couple of fun and casual items to play on all of our childhood memories. We started with an idea for a version of “Adult Milk and Cookies”. Heritage carries a delicious Coffee Vodka which creates a perfect White Russian. What goes better with “milk” more than a Chocolate Chip Cookie? And we sprinkle it with a little flake salt to offer a sweet & salty flavor that grown-ups love!
Our last pairing of the evening was inspired by a cocktail that has become one of Heritage’s signature items: Pineapple Upside Down Cake. We paired this with a Hot Maple Ice Cream with Bacon and Salted Caramel Powder. The cream and along with the caramel matches perfectly to the tart pineapple and sweet brown sugar in the bourbon. Of course we had to add bacon, who doesn’t love bacon and maple together! Finish it off with the cake shot and you have a symphony of sweetness to last throughout the evening.
Tastes and opinions will vary, but there is no end to the possibilities and variety of combinations when it comes to pairing spirts with your next catering menu. Hopefully Monica and the team at AGA/Duos have inspired you to get playful with your menus, bring in some unique local combinations and give your guests an outstanding experience.