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Barbecue and Drink Matching

By March 26, 2021 ,

When looking at matching drinks with food the main tip is to look at the key ingredients being used in the dish, what is the most dominant ingredient from a flavour perspective and then take your cue from that. You can then look at the elements in the drink that you wish to pair with it.  
What are the questions you need to ask when pairing barbecue and drinks? Are there similar flavours or are there flavours that may clash? What are you marinading with, what sauce are you serving the dish with? You want something that will compliment your food, not overpower it. This thinking while often used in pairing wines can be applied for beer, ciders and cocktails. First of all, simple rules such as red meat – red wine and white meat and fish -  white wine can be applied, but the rules can be always bent dependent on the dish.

While many advise on wines such as shiraz, merlot, malbec, zinfandel, chardonnay as the traditional go-to for barbecue wines, it is worth thinking out of the box. The suggestions for these wines are normally ones from Australia, New Zealand California and Argentina. Many of these wines will be high in alcohol, heavily oaked and while they will pair well with steak, brisket, pulled pork dishes the tannins may be more pronounced. They could be very heavy for a barbecue on a summers day, so why not consider wines that are lighter, but still work well from a flavour perspective.

It is worth looking towards Eastern Europe for barbecue friendly wines. Hungary has a wealth of rich full bodied reds such as Bikaver and Kékfrankos which also have a fruity roundness to them and good tannins, they also have a good spiciness to them which will hold up to spice heavy marinades (chilli, cloves, nutmeg). The whites such as furmint have a freshness to them which will compliment any fish dish, the sweet tokaji traditionally served with desserts will work wonders with dishes such as baked apricots/peaches or roast pineapple and mango.

 Also look at wines from Burgundy such as Pommard and Volnay which are lighter in style but stand up well to beef (traditionally served with steak in Burgundy) or whites such aligoté or meursault which will happily complement an oak smoked chicken dish. Pinot noir, that popular Burgundian grape, works well with roast Duck and pork dishes.

Austrian or German wines such as Spätburgunder are a great wine to pair with spicy dishes or again steak, whites such as gruner veltliner match well with fish and gewürztraminer, off dry reisling and pinot blanc will work well with Asian marinades, they have a sweetness and freshness which matches well. For shellfish dishes look at Picpoul de Pinet, Muscadet, Chablis (crab and lobster), champagne or cremants with oysters, sauvignon blanc with scallops.

Rioja is always my go to for lamb and goat dishes or middle eastern recipes, the tempranillo grape has a wonderful affinity for light spices and aromatics. We should not neglect rosé, a great summer drink, but do pay attention to the grapes used to make it, the traditional French styles will be light and fragrant with a slight acidic finish, so great with fish such as tuna. Look at rosés from Argentina for heavier bodied ones made from merlot or syrah grapes which are a wonderful pairing with roast lamb or vegetable dishes such as ratatouille.

Beer pairing can be seen as the easier option for many a barbecue drink, but can be just as complex with the vast range of craft beers now available. Many of the modern style IPAs have a citrus note which would work well with dishes that have lemon or Thai style marinades, aim for one with a sweeter rather than dry finish as the bitter hop notes may clash. Those with a coriander finish such as Lowlander’s IPA will work well with Tandoori style marinades. Traditional English Ales (Speckled Hen, Fullers, Sharps, Badgers), amber beers such as Palm or De Koninck with less bitter and more rounded flavours will work well with dishes such as chilli, brisket, smoked wings or a good old fashioned burger or hotdog. Look to beers from Belgium such as Leffe, La Chouffe and Duvel that can stand up to more flavour in a dish. Bock style beers have a little more depth and sweetness to them and will work well with heavier dishes.

Cider should not be forgotten, there is nothing better than a simple roast chicken with a sparkling Breton or Normandy cider, it also pairs well with a simple roast pork dish too. There are also some wonderful English ciders to consider, those erring on the sweeter style will also work well with chicken and pork but would also suit traditional spare ribs. The dryer styles will work well with fish.

Last but not least the cocktail, a great starter to any barbecue event, where would we be without kicking off with a Pimms and lemonade. Rum based cocktails such as dark and stormy with ginger beer are a nice light start or a rum and cider punch. Rum is often used as the basis for many a dessert marinade and has a sweetness that can stand up to dessert dishes. Whiskey or Bourbon style cocktails such as old fashioned or mint juleps will pair well with traditional American style dishes that are heavily sauced. Gin and tonic another barbecue staple, can be taken up a notch by pairing a spiced gin such as Darnleys with a smoked ginger ale.

Pairing drinks with food is often seen as a daunting task and when applying this to barbecue even more so. It’s worth taking a step back and keeping it simple, start with the food and then work towards the drink.

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