We could barely keep our hands off our food. But we waited for the man in the black chef coat to make his way to the center of the room. Fortunately, he was a man of few words. Fewer still, I suspect, if he had his way. But it was a social night – a tasting event – and a few words from Kendall, the maestro who had put the evening’s pairings together, was an important part of the performance.
We were all gathered for a pairing dinner at our local World of Beer, but instead of pairing food with wine, it was whiskey.
But wine does come into play, as I will explain.
There were four pairings that night, but one that towered above the rest. Our third pairing involved the pairing of Basil Hayden bourbon with a burger crafted just for that evening. The chef introduced us to it as thus;
“When I tasted the Basil Hayden, the first thing that jumped out at me was the spice. I thought it would make a good Manhattan. So I took the elements of the Manhattan and put those into the burger.”
So, what’s in a Manhattan cocktail? Whiskey (preferably Rye, because of the spice), sweet vermouth, and cherry.
In a stroke of gastronomic genius, Kendall chopped cherries and cooked them in the burger. He made a BBQ sauce using sweet vermouth. Then, used the remaining ingredient – the bourbon – as the beverage pairing.
The key insight here is that, when planning the menu for your next wine and food pairing adventure, think about the individual flavors that are present in the wine. Then imagine those flavors on a recipe card. What ingredients can you put together that reside partially in the food and partially in the wine?
For example, think about a simple recipe for lemon chicken. Then, instead of putting lemon on the chicken, ask what wines might I find the flavor of lemon? (Perhaps a nice, cool-climate Pinot Grigio, for example.)
Don’t be afraid to go beyond the literal, either. I love a good PB&J sandwich. I also love a good dish of Pad Thai. Since I know that peanut flavors complement fruity flavors, I have a pretty good idea of how a fruit-forward, off-dry wine will taste with peanut-flavored Pad Thai or Panang Curry. (It’s no mistake that semi-sweet Rieslings are now standard wine list items at Thai restaurants.)
There is no shortage of adventures for the wine and food pairing enthusiast, especially when you consider unlikely pairs – like bourbon and burgers; or PB&J – as possible sources of inspiration.