5 Tips for Pairing Cocktails With Food

Pairing food with a drink can be an intimidating task. The right drink can enhance a dining experience, and the wrong drink can ruin it. It’s easy to stick to common pairings of food and wine, but pairing cocktails with appetizers or main dishes isn’t as difficult as it seems and can be a fun way to change it up.

Pairing cocktails with food is only complicated because the flavors are a little more complex. But once you find your favorite pairings, you’ll be ready to throw any type of party—formal or relaxed! Here are a few tips to help you get the best cocktail pairings with food.

1. Choose cocktails that complement your meals. A cocktail can complement a dish by either matching or contrasting its flavors. Consider the body of the drink—if it’s a heavier drink, you’ll want to pair it with a lighter dish, and if it’s a light drink you can pair it with a heavier meal. If there’s a shared ingredient in your dish and your drink, chances are they’ll pair well together. For example, a French 75 and Crostini With Lemon-Basil Ricotta Spread are a great pairing because they both feature lemon. For contrasting flavors, you can pair spicy meals with light, refreshing drinks. Don’t be afraid to try a pairing that might surprise your guests.

French 75 and Crostini With Lemon Basil Ricotta Spread
French 75 and Crostini With Lemon-Basil Ricotta Spread

2. Use the cocktail to enhance the flavors of your dish. Don’t let the flavors of your cocktail overpower or compete with your dish. For instance, you wouldn’t pair whiskey with raw oysters, but you would serve it with steak. You also shouldn’t pair an overly sweet cocktail with a sweet dish. The food should always drive the flavors of the cocktail.

Old Fashioned and Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Pepper Poppers
Old Fashioned and Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Pepper Poppers

3. Add aromatics. Herbs are a great way to pair cocktails with foods. You can use them to match similar flavors in a dish to the drink. You don’t always have to muddle the herbs to incorporate them into the dish. Sometimes just a sprig as a garnish is all you need.

Mimosa Bar

4. Know the roots. Food and alcohol that evolved in the same regional area tend to pair well together. A great example of this is tequila and mole sauce, since they both originated in Mexico.


5. Control your alcohol levels. If you’re planning a five-course meal and have a new cocktail for each dish, watch how much alcohol you’re serving. Serving sizes for full-spirit dinner pairings should be smaller and made up of only 2- to 3-ounce cocktails. You don’t want to ruin the meal by overserving and burning your guests’ taste buds.

Want more great pairings? Try:

Negroni & Cheese French 75 and Sushi
Paloma & Tacos Mezcal & Tacos
Sazerac & Dessert Brandy & Blue Cheese
Bourbon & BBQ Watermelon Mojito & Spicy Tuna Rolls
Gin & Seafood Vodka & Smoked Fish

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3 Responses to 5 Tips for Pairing Cocktails With Food

  1. Tracey Mercer-Cox September 21, 2018 at 7:50 pm #

    Jodi Kirby this is us?!

  2. PFowler November 30, 2018 at 5:25 pm #

    Thanks for the great suggestions!

  3. karen dortch June 17, 2020 at 12:09 pm #

    Not much of a drinker but great ideas for the guests.

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