Pairing food with alcoholic drinks is not an easy task. People spend decades trying to figure it out and often fail. But though it’s far from simple, it’s a skill that can be learnt. And for those of us working in hospitality and restaurants, pairing drinks with food is a skill almost all of us have to acquire to be successful.
Whether our restaurant or bar is serving cocktails, wine or beer, knowing which one to suggest for our trademark salmon, venison or vegan dish can be the difference between a diner never returning, and a valuable long-term customer.
What do you do if the person walking into your restaurant has coeliac disease, is gluten intolerant, or is following a gluten-free diet for health reasons? Surely they should receive the same level of service as your regular customers? It can be hard enough to provide top-quality dishes to match their needs, never mind finding and matching specialist drinks. Today, however, it’s becoming much easier to find alcoholic beverages to pair with gluten-free foods. Every month, new gluten-free products are released to market. From the finest red wines to craft gluten-free beers, avoiding gluten is getting easier than ever before.
Drinking alcohol in restaurants used to be a risky business for people with gluten allergies. Today, the expectations are that there will be an option in every restaurant.This leaves us is in a bit of a situation in the hospitality and restaurant industry. We need to make sure we can pair our best gluten-free food with the best gluten-free drinks. Not sure how? Read on to find out more…
Pairing alcoholic drinks with food
Pairing drinks with food is an art. Get it right, and you can transform a dish from solid to exquisite. It could be the difference between a 4* review and a 5* review. It could be the difference between a full house and a half empty restaurant. So getting it right is of great importance. Here are the basics to get you started...
Acidity is your partner in crime
When pairing food with drinks, acidity is the most important factor. Like zesty fruits like lime and lemon, acidic drinks cleanse the palette. Because of this, acidic drinks are a great accompaniment to many dishes. From chicken chow mein to salad nicoise, grilled salmon to prawn cocktail, if you want to add a little zingy freshness to your dish, pair it with an acidic drink. The go-to solution here is a fresh, zesty white wine, such as a Malborough Sauvignon Blanc, though a mojito works equally well when paired with these sorts of dishes. Want to pair with craft beer? The crisp, dry hoppiness of a craft IPA is the best option to go for.
Gluten-free zesty white wines
White wine is naturally gluten-free, so you can pick any of your favourite zesty white wines to accompany your signature seafood dishes.
A standard mojito made with rum, soda water, lime juice, sugar and mint is gluten-free, so you can pair safely with your dishes. However, fruit-based mojitos, particularly those made with pineapple and coconut, are often not safe for coeliacs, so keep it simple.
This is where things get a little tricky. Beer is often a no-no for people who are coeliac, gluten intolerant, or who are following a gluten-free diet. There are options, however. Magic Rock Brewery’s Fantasma is a great beer, as is Thornbridge Satsuma. Though they aren’t available from all suppliers, they can be purchased on sites like Beerhawk.
For spicier dishes, lay off the ABV
Though it’s often tempting to reach for the closest strong drink when eating a spicy Thai or Indian curry, it’s the worst thing to do. Alcohol actually intensifies the heat. When pairing drinks with spicy food on your menu, go for options with lower ABV. Sweeter drinks also tend to work well with spicy dishes.
Want wine? Go for an off-dry Chenin Blanc. Cocktail? Try a Strawberry Bellini. For beer, it’s a little more difficult. Many people recommend IPA, but in fact, the best options come from Czechia, a country hardly known for its spicy cuisine. For a hot Chicken Naga or Thai Red Curry, however, your best bet is a fresh pilsner.
Gluten-free sweet white wine
As noted previously, white wine is naturally gluten-free, so you can pick any of your favourite low-alcohol, sweeter white wines to accompany your spicy dishes.
You’re also pretty safe here, too. If you go for our recommendation of a strawberry bellini, made up of sparkling wine, pureed strawberries, sugar, and creme de cassis, you’re safe. If you want more information on gluten-free cocktails, check out this handy list. Remember, with spicy dishes, keep it sweet.
Surely not? Pilsners?. There’s absolutely no way you can serve that to a coeliac. But thanks to the craft beer revolution, we’re now seeing some gluten-free friendly pilsners become widely available.
From Belgium, we have the excellent Mongozo Pilsner. From Czechia, try the widely available Zatec Celia. Want to stay British? The Bellfield Bohemian Pilsner is a great option. People with celiac disease never have to suffer in hot restaurants again.
Fatty foods, strong tannins
When it comes to a 28-day dry aged steak, roast duck or St. Louis style ribs, or any other fatty dish, tannins are key. This should come as no surprise to many, but rich red wines work well with strong meaty dishes. Think Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, or for something a little more special, Nebbiolo.
Pairing cocktails with foods like steak can be a little more difficult. Pomegranate is your saviour. It’s one of the few fruits heavy on tannins, which makes it the best cocktail ingredient when pairing with fatty foods. A pomegranate Moscow Mule would work great here. As for beers, you should go for rich smoky porters.
Gluten-free, tannin-rich red wine
Like white wine, almost all red wine is gluten-free. So whether you’re a fan of Australian Shiraz, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, or Italian Nebbiolo, you should be safe pairing gluten-free, rich fatty dishes with these wines. Always check with your supplier first, however.
Gluten-free pomegranate cocktails
Though we’re limited to pomegranate cocktails when pairing with meat-heavy dishes, there are still creative options. This Pomegranate Martini is especially good, and as mentioned previously, a pomegranate Moscow Mule is a great accompaniment to sticky BBQ ribs. Here’s a recipe from Delish to get you started.
Porters and gluten-free diets don’t often go hand-in-hand. These thick, rich beers seem to ooze stomach pain as they’re poured into a glass. But as with pilsners, there are now options that can be matched with your rich gluten-free dishes.
World Top Brewery, from East Yorkshire, make this unbelievably good Marmalade Porter. Unlike most beers on this list, it can also be bought to be served on draft. Ask any coeliac, this is almost unheard of. Stock up, and the customers will flood in.
To sum up
Pairing gluten-free drinks with gluten-free food doesn’t have to be difficult.
If you want to play it safe, stick to wine. But if you’re a cocktail or craft beer eatery, there are excellent options on the market.
With the craft beer revolution and increasing demand for high-quality cocktails, people who follow gluten-free diets will increasingly want to get involved in the fun. Follow this guide to make sure your bar or restaurant doesn’t disappoint and get left behind.
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