Food and cocktail pairing

Pairing to Perfection

Both fruit acidity and sweetness were sneaking inside the Talisker waves without smoothing its marine strength.

We celebrate the growing trend for the flavour-pairing of cocktails alongside food. World Class ambassador Max La Rocca kicks off with an exciting new pairing; Zacapa brand ambassador Daniel Dove explains the incredible array of flavours that allow Zacapa to be served alongside dishes throughout a meal, and Reserve brand ambassador Fabrizio Fischione examines how you can even match vegan food with Talisker 10 Year Old.

Do you remember New York’s trend of Bar and Books, or the nail bars that spread all over the world – where customers could have a pedicure with a drink? Well now we’re seeing the rise of a new trend: that of combining cocktails with food.

People are becoming increasingly aware that they can enjoy new flavours not only with a good meal and a glass of wine, but also by pairing food with drinks that intensify, match or contrast with their meal. For example, in Barcelona, there’s Makamaka, a bar that pairs mini-burgers with cocktails – and in Paris, Grazie pizzeria matches amazing drinks with their pizza selections.

Normally, when a group of friends dine out, they order different dishes – and, very rarely, will a bottle of the same wine work with every dish ordered. So by choosing drinks that complement your meal, you can really enhance the dining experience.

Oysters and carrots by Max La Rocca

I tend to use cookbooks as an amazing resource for creating cocktails, and also to source innovative ideas for developing food pairings. I decided to experiment with ingredients, which, if taken one-by-one, can create famous culinary combos – and then I expanded this combination to create brand new ingredient pairings. My initial combinations were carrots with oysters, carrots with whisky and carrots with cardamom. Then I tried oysters with whisky, oysters with stout. Then cardamom with lime and cardamom with oysters. Then it was lime with egg white and lime with oysters. And finally, I paired egg white with sugar and egg white with crème fraîche. These resulted in the following cocktail that after my testing I paired with a dish of carrot and cardamom-infused oysters with lime crème fraîche and chives.

The Giants’ Gate by Max La Rocca
13.g alcohol

40ml Singleton of Dufftown
10ml Lime Juice
20ml Sugar Syrup (1 to 1)
20ml Guinness Stout
15ml Egg White
5/6 Cardamom Pods
Singleton-infused raisins for garnish

Warmth and gentle bitterness

This drink combines the baked-apples and toasted-nuts hints of Singleton with the toasted and chocolatey flavours of Guinness, both enhanced by the freshness of the cardamom. It’s best to eat the skewed raisins while sipping the drink, in order to experience the amazing burst of flavours.

The warmth of the whisky and the gentle bitterness of the Guinness balance beautifully with the strong saline flavour of the oysters. Meanwhile, the spiciness of the cardamom cuts through the sweetness of the carrots used for the oysters.

The lime in the cocktail works perfectly with both the oysters and the crème fraîche, and the egg white enhances the mouthfeelmouth feel of the drink, making for a smoother transition between the food and the cocktail itself. Overall, this is an amazing match that will create an exceptional experience for guests.

I used The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs. And what a fantastic book this is! It’s full of great ideas to enhance your understanding of how ingredients work together and, as a result, create amazing cocktail pairings! There are thousands of ingredients and their flavour affinities, plus a little section on spirits as well.

So why not start experimenting and unleash some new flavour combinations of your own?

Zacapa is made for matching

Next, Daniel Dove explores the potential for food pairing that the array of delicious, complex flavours in Zacapa opens up.

Food pairing has become synonymous with the use of wines over the past 15 years. More recently, though, spirits and cocktails have entered the spotlight and have made an enormous impact on the food pairing concept. Rum and, more specifically, Zacapa, has such a broad range of uses that we have been able to create an amazing portfolio of pairings; ranging from basic chocolate and cheeses to braised meats and cured fish.

Chocolate, for example, is a fantastic pairing that complements the rich notes within Zacapa, enhancing the chocolatey notes from the whisky barrels and the sweet caramel notes from the delightful Virgin Sugar Cane Honey.

Zacapa 23 with chocolate truffles

A handmade chocolate truffle is infused with Zacapa 23, and accompanied with a paired cocktail of 35ml Zacapa 23 and 35ml oloroso sherry. Another set of truffles is injected with bourbon, oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenez and orange bitters, and accompanied with a measure of Zacapa 23.

Zacapa and mature cheddar

Cheese pairings have always incorporated the use of ports and sweet wines. Once again, the use of other liquids, such as super premium rums, has been completely underestimated. But spirits such as Zacapa can bring a level complexity that cannot be found in the classic use of ports and wines. Mature cheddar cuts through the sweetness and marries with Zacapa. Meanwhile, grapes enhance the dried citrus notes. Serve with fig chutney, which complements the dried fruit notes from the oloroso sherry.

Other pairings include: Mayan Martini with Zacapa 23-cured salmon with dill and beetroot. Mix Zacapa 23, oloroso sherry and chocolate bitters to make the Mayan Martini; Quetzaltenango Fizz (Zacapa 23, lemon juice, sugar and shiraz wine topped with soda) with Zacapa XO-braised shin of beef and root vegetables roasted with ‘virgin honey’; and a measure of Zacapa 23 with Cigar Cremeux (Dolce de Leche, coconut biscuit and espresso foam).

Talisker 10 Year Old with vegan food by Fabrizio Fischione

A true Talisker 10 drinker will know about the fantastic flavours inside this incredible single malt. Even more certainly, our drinker will appreciate the true joy of eating dishes alongside this malt, When two minds are focused on giving the best sensorial experiences to guests – the whisky distiller and the chef – it’s a matter of pleasure with a capital ‘P’.

In Italy we have a solid heritage – the Mediterranean climate has an incredible variety of vegetables, seafood and meat – and peaty malts often pair well with seafood in particular. But what if our customer is vegan?

To answer this question, I’ve been enjoying a wonderful journey through powerful spices and vegetable varieties with Lorenzo Scaglia, who works with Dennis Zoppi at Smile Tree in Turin. He’s a great bartender, a wonderful host and a perfect vegan food matcher!

Lorenzo’s proposition was to sip a neat Talisker 10 Year Old with Physalis Alkekengi (also known as winter cherry – a small, red fruit contained inside a covering that resembles paper lanterns) and Washington black salt. Against all my previous food matching experience, Lorenzo suggested I sip Talisker first, then eat the Alkekengi soaked with Washington black salt. It was an incredible complement to the taste of Talisker. Both fruit acidity and sweetness were sneaking inside the Talisker waves without smoothing its marine strength, while boosting the more fruity notes. The black Washington salt with its natural smoke taste was a perfect companion to the peat.

Next we paired Talisker 10 Year Old with slices of green apple dehydrated and rehydrated with a salty solution spiced up with Cubeb pepper. After a sip of water I was ready for this second match. Acid, sweet, salt, spiced umami and bitter sea brine danced together in this mix. It was brilliant and boldly executed, with spices that woke up my palate.

Pairing number three was a nest of Wakame seaweed with Umeboshi (dried Japanese plum pickled with sisho leaves) vinaigrette and Seichuan pepper. It was a brilliant match, evoking Scottish seashores, and drawing an ideal bridge between Asia and Europe. This brought an acid-sweet companion to the marine identity of seaweed, with the Umeboshi plum liquid vinaigrette working its magic. Sichuan pepper brought out the background notes from Talisker.

Many thanks to Lorenzo, and I hope you all will be able to come soon to Italy and put our best bartenders and chefs on the only trial you can trust: that one where the judge is your own taste.

What do you think of these exciting cocktail pairings – and the whole concept of matching cocktails and food? Do tell us below.