The Alcohol Connection: Food and Alcohol Pairings, Unlikely and Delicious!
The chef and I got a little tipsy — and a few pounds heavier — for the research on this article. In our “tour de alcohol,” we discovered some pretty fantastic ideas for pairing foods with an array of spirits, sometimes even literally injecting our chosen cuisine with scrumptious liquids.
We began our tasting tour at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, where we landed in the tasting bar on a stool opposite a direct descendant of Jim Beam himself, an eighth-generation employee named Erica. She walked us through a tasting of bourbons, and we hit it off right away (it could have been that we shared the same name, or that we shared a few shots of bourbon).
What really lingered on the palate was Jim Beam’s Red Stag. It tasted like cherry candy, so we added it to our collection of liquors for our newest invention: the strawberry injection bar. Biting into one of those hand-dipped chocolate strawberries and unleashing the spirits inside is a thing of beauty. Along with Red Stag, we inject the coated berries with other delightful treats like St. Germain, Jack Daniel’s, Grand Marnier, and my favorite, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur. Oh my.
For more savory pairings, we visited our friend Jesse, who owns the Village Pub and Beer Garden in East Nashville, where the choice of artisan beers on tap is quite impressive. We tried the Calf Killer Classic Stout, a sturdy sip made with oats and chocolate malts, and paired it with a delightful veggie burger-stuffed pretzel. The sandwich was surprisingly meaty and substantial, and the basil-lime mayo and caramelized onions gave it an extra level of flavor, complimenting the malty goodness of the beer.
We tried a few other beers with the stuffed pretzel, pairing a crispy summery beer called Magic Hat Wacko with a cold pasta salad. This was also a hit because of the contrast between the sweet finish of the beer and the tangy vinaigrette of the pasta. With full bellies, we all agreed; a good run of good draft beers can actually enhance the flavor of foods.
In all fairness, we had to hit the hard stuff. So we visited with Jason Fandrich, CEO of the up-and-coming Cuestion Tequila brand, at a recent tequila tasting held at The Bound’ry. The cool thing about Cuestion is that it’s smooth all by itself, and can be paired with a variety of foods to augment the flavors of each.
We tasted the Blanco, a product of all-natural Blue Weber Agave plants, and paired it with a Spanish-inspired spicy shrimp with chili peppers and cilantro. Due to the hint of white pepper and a sweet finish, the tequila actually brought out the flavors in the shrimp. Not only did we drink it straight, but it was room temp. Crazy, but oh so good!
Cuestion’s Reposado went well with a hearty pork taco, and a decadent chocolate monster called King’s Desire — made with house-made Oreo, peanut butter nougat, bruleed bananas and chocolate mousse — was killer with the Cuestion Anejo. This hearty tequila’s blend of dark chocolate and caramel flavors, citrus, clove and rich oak set off our palates.
Start broadening your realm of possibility when it comes to food and alcohol, whether you seek out an organized pairing or order a flight of beers and bites for lunch at your neighborhood pub. Ask questions, and try things that you wouldn’t think would normally go together. Go beyond the wine pairing and into the unknown world of a marriage of the unlikely.
Chef Chris Rains recently put together a fine pairing of Gentleman Jack and a marinated beef tenderloin that will leave you feeling euphoric. Try it at home, but just don’t try it on the kids!
• Take a nice 2-pound beef tenderloin roast and marinate it in 2 parts bourbon, 1 part brown sugar and 1 part water.
• Let it marinate in your fridge for a minimum of 16 hours.
• Drain off marinade and place in a small stock pot and reduce by 1/2 over medium heat to create a glaze.
• Season beef tenderloin heavily with salt and pepper.
• Roast in your oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees (for medium). Let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
• Glaze with your sauce and pour a glass of Gentleman Jack on the rocks. The bourbon’s sweet vanilla caramels and nice oak finish will complement the glazed beef.
Photo by Sarah Bailey
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