Cocktail Pairing Rules

Here’s what you need to know before shaking up a list of cocktails to go with your next dinner party menu.

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• Keep an eye on the alcohol content. It’s socially responsible and besides, too high an ABV will dull the palate and overwhelm delicate flavours. Include low- and no-proof drinks in your lineup.

Bittered drinks, like the Negroni or Boulevardier, are designed to whet the appetite, and should be served with savoury appetizers.

• Just as high-acid wines are the food-friendliest, the tart flavour of citrus-forward drinks can complement a wide range of foods.

• White spirits and fresh herbs go best with lighter dishes like seafood and fresh summer greens.

• Darker spirits like whisky, brandy or aged rum go best with red meat. A rye Manhattan is classic with grilled steak while a bourbon Old Fashioned is ideal with BBQ pork.

• One easy shortcut is to match a region’s spirit to its cuisine, for instance: sake-based cocktails with Japanese cuisine; tequila ones with Mexican; rum with Caribbean. 

• Dessert cocktails should complement rather than match—a raspberry-flavoured French Martini goes better with chocolate mousse than, say, an Espresso Martini. 

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