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BBQ & Booze: 4 Tips on Pairing Cocktails with your Backyard Feast

For every way to do something right, there are ten ways to get it wrong. Turning classic TV shows into feature films is a prime example (1998's "The Avengers", anyone?) as is styling of mid-priced American cars.

In the world of drinks, one place where we repeatedly tend to drop our guard is pairing something tasty to go along with our barbeque.

Photo: Flickr - aloi

Given the amount of time some of us spend on our meat - frequenting a special butcher, brining, dry aging, marinating, applying rubs, or basting - it's ironic that the drinks we serve with the main course are often an afterthought. The latter tends to fall into two distinct categories: red wine and things thrown into a big plastic cooler. We won't argue against a good bottle of wine; it's the cooler, and more precisely the (light) beer tossed inside that could benefit from an upgrade.

It can be quite easy if you follow a few simple rules:

1. Think "Time and Place"
If you're barbequing outside on a blistering day, you'll want a drink that does a journeyman's job of cutting the heat. This means tall, cold, and full of ice. A hot day is no place for a Manhattan. If you and guests will be spending a good amount of time in the sun, cut back the alcohol or go with a drink that offers a large ratio of non-spirit ingredients.
Try: a collins or a good navy grog.

2. Let Your Sauce Be Your Guide
While the type of meat you serve will certainly have a bearing on the drinks that accompany it, it's more important to complement the sauce or rub you choose.

Pair your drinks to the sauce / Photo: Flickr - sacks08Using a lot of chili powder? What goes well with that? Tequila and lime. A sweeter sauce? Look for something which matches the flavor profile and provides a foil for it.
Try: a Whiskey buck.

Also know that straight alcohol and spicy foods don't play nicely together.

For the same reason that sweeter wines like Rieslings are paired with hotter Asian foods, if you're dousing your meat in a mouth-burning sauce or rub, up the sweetness quotient in drinks to help quench the flame.

Tiki time, anyone? See below.

3. Avoid Overly Sweet Drinks
This may seem like a contradiction to the above, but it isn't really. All it means is use your sugar judiciously. Acids love fat and protein, which is why alcohol is such a natural bedfellow to a nice slab of meat.

Think of your drinks as a another condiment, there to enhance the meal, not over power it - nor to get your guests full before they even start on the food. If you're doing a Polynesian style barbeque, reach for tropical style drinks but avoid the overly sweet ones.

We're big fans of twists on classic drinks that provide balance and counterpoint to the originals, such as Jacob Grier's Mai Ta-IPA (featured in "The 12 Bottle Bar"), which brings additional acid and a bitter note to the classic Mai Tai through the addition of a healthy dose of India Pale Ale. It's also a great bridge for a traditional beer-drinking crowd to up their game.

4. Keep it Simple
Worry about the meat. Worry about your guests. And, for goodness' sake, don't spend all of your time shaking and stirring. Make a drink that batches easily - we do Hurricanes - and serve it in a large dispenser.

The best drinks are ones that forego ice in the dispenser/bowl and are served over ice in the glass. They may not be as immediately cold, but they won't dilute over the course of the day. If need be, add extra water to your recipe to cut it in advance.

Another clever trick, if you're willing to put in a tad more effort, is to portion all of your drinks in advance in reusable bottles and add those to the cooler in place of the light beer. Your guests will still reach into the familiar place, but they'll be enjoying your crafty handiwork.

★ Our BBQ Drink Suggestion: El Tamarindo ★
This variation on a traditional grog employs an equally traditional tamarind agua fresca.
1 1/2 (45ml) ounces amber Rum
1 1/2 (45ml) ounces agua de tamarindo (recipe below)
3 – 4 ounces (90-100ml) club soda, to top

Add all ingredients to a collins glass with ice. Stir gently to combine and garnish with a lime wedge

To batch: Scale the recipe as needed. In advance, combine the Rum and the agua de tamarindo in a large dispenser. To serve, measure out approximately 3 ounces into a collins glass filled with ice and top with chilled club soda.

Photo: Flickr - erinkohlenbergphoto

How to make Agua de Tamarindo
8 large fresh tamarind pods (with brown flesh, if some of the shell is missing, that’s okay)
1/2 cup brown sugar (piloncillo)
1 quart of filtered water

1. As best you can, remove as much of the shell and strings from the tamarind pods, being sure to leave all the sticky flesh. If the pods break, that’s okay. If some shell and strings remain, that’s fine too.

2. Bring the quart of water to a boil and add pods and sugar (if using piloncillo, you may need to chop it up in order to measure it) to the boiling water. Return to a boil and let everything boil again for one minute.

3. Remove from heat and pour everything into a non-reactive bowl. Let sit for approximately 2 hours.

4. Scrape the tamarind flesh from the pods using a spoon or your hands (hands are easier; wash them first, of course). Strain the mixture through a fine strainer, pressing out as much liquid from the solids as possible. Store in the refrigerator, and stir well before using.

This blog post was written by David Solmonson, co-author of a 12 Bottle Bar cocktail book. Combined with the Cocktail Unveil tasting pack they're everything you need to tap into the cocktail world.

 

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