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New Trend: Food and Cocktail Pairing

One of the biggest trends for 2016 is perfecting the art of food and drink pairing. World Class bartender James Fowler tells us why he thinks this latest trend is one to get excited about!

I have always been interested in the concept of food and drink being linked. With a background in cooking, it was in my nature to be curious about how one was simultaneously affected by the other. The scope for invention is vast. I’ve created cocktails for a wide variety of dishes, from plates of Spanish cured ham, to citrus-marinated fish or even in a World Class Cocktail competition for a spiced, slow-cooked lamb shoulder dish as created by Jason Atherton.

Why you should pair cocktails with food

There are two great reasons to pair food and cocktails—flavor and opportunity.


By adding the element of food, working with a chef’s larder, you enter a very exciting world of flavor, a world that might not have been possible without incorporating food. A great way to introduce these flavors into your drink is by talking to chefs—they can recommend flavour integration and combinations that work. By working with food you also explore new methods of manipulating and preserving flavors such as pickling, poaching or even caramelizing (great for garnishes).

You are most likely to find food and cocktail pairings in venues with a very strong restaurant. However, a food paring can also be something as small as a one-bite garnish, but that one bite will accelerate the drink to a new level. I’ve seen pickled eggs offered with Bloody Marys, Boquerones (Vinegar and Citrus cured anchovies) with Margaritas and fine Rum Old-Fashioned served with beautiful chocolate truffles.

I believe food and drink as a pair are so important in the very best dining experiences. Also, in the last couple of years the term “Bar Chef” has cropped up. Bartenders are becoming more interested in sourcing, processing and displaying flavor. Food and drink pairings in dining experiences really can equalize attention back to the bar.


Food and drink pairings are also great for your customers. In addition to offering a new experience, they also show that staff know their food, and that the kitchen and bar teams work side by side. I really like it when I go to restaurant bars and you hear that the chef helped the bartender make this certain component or garnish. In my restaurant we even go to the lengths of offering cocktail pairings with different cheeses on our cheese board.

There really is so much opportunity to add experience to every course of a meal with a drink pairing and it is a great opportunity to upsell your drinks. The result is a greater spend per head compared to a normal dinner thereby increasing the overall bill—making your boss smile and hopefully giving you a bigger tip!

Even if you do not work in a restaurant there is still an opportunity to upsell fancy and unique garnishes that pair with a cocktail. If you can create a story around your cocktail and why you used the garnish, it can really make it an enjoyable experience for the customer. People love stories. Talk about how the flavors work together and the benefits that the garnish brings to the drink.

My top tips for food and cocktail pairing

1. Work with the biggest flavor

A little advice when you have a dish and you want to make a drink to match or when you are looking to create a one bite garnish for a cocktail. I have always looked at either the biggest flavor or the wettest element on the plate.

For example, if you had a slow cooked blade of beef served with a spiced squash puree, I would probably look at the puree and create a drink to complement that, possibly even using some of the puree in my cocktail. Sounds strange, but when I make drink pairings for hot main dishes, I always design the drink to become the gravy or jus to the main element, so taking other elements from the dish and enhancing the piece of meat or fish etc.

2. Elements need to work together

Remember it’s a food and drink pairing; they must work really well together. If you have a sweet dessert, I would avoid a sweet drink. The drink doesn’t necessarily have to be a great stand-alone drink but when paired, they need to come alive.

3. Plan

From a service point of view, if you are wishing to implement this to your bar, you will need a good plan. You don’t want your drink sitting around waiting for the chef to finish the dish or vice versa. Sometimes simple pairings are the best.

4. Size

Think about the size of the course vs. the size of the drink. I generally say a shorter drink with starters and a longer drink with main courses, and shorter again with dessert.

5. Research

Get reading! There are a few great flavor-matching books out there. It’s really great to read about proven obscure pairings that yet again could surprise your guests.

6. Themes work well

You could also theme the pairings. If, for example, it was British Asparagus Week and the chef was doing a feature on asparagus, you could pair the dish with a twist on an asparagus-infused Vodka Martini.

7. Promote your food and drink pairings

Make sure your customers know about the delicious food and cocktail pairings you have to offer by highlighting them on your menu. You could mention your cocktail on the food menu, next to the dish as the chef’s recommendation. Remember to ensure that all staff know about the food and cocktail pairings and are confident on how to recommend them.

Try your hand at creating some of James’ food and drink pairings

HONG KON-FUSION (James’ WORLD CLASS™ GB Final winning cocktail)

Served with a 12-hour braised lamb shoulder with spiced pumpkin puree and harissa.


Swizzle all the ingredients in a Chinese mug before adding crushed ice and swizzling again.

Garnish with dehydrated pineapple and rice paper

MARSH-HAUL MATTERS (Twist on a Manhattan)

Works perfect with dark olive tapenade on crostini or venison charcuterie.


Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with fresh ice.

Stir to dilute and chill.

Serve straight up.

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(*One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol)