A Guide To Cocktail and Appetizer Pairings

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Everyone knows a great party begins with a great cocktail and appetizer. Even if you’re an experienced caterer or a freelance chef just starting out, the art of marrying food and drink can seem intimidating at first glance but it is actually pretty achievable. If your clients are looking to throw an unforgettable cocktail soiree, they’re expecting a menu filled with memorable cocktails combined with passed apps, and you should be prepared to provide.

When curating your cocktail and appetizer pairings, keep in mind that cocktails can enhance the flavor of your foods. It’s important to choose blends of tastes that complement and contrast each other delightfully, without overpowering each other. Don’t know where to start? Here’s our guide to creating the best cocktail and appetizer pairings.

How To Pair Cocktails With Cuisine

Using the well-known, classic beverages from your country of choice to sip alongside meals of the same origin is an easy way to figure out which appetizer and cocktail combinations work. Spirits and foods developed in the same place often have the same tone and taste to them, so sticking to the staple dishes of your cocktail’s country of origin allows you to create a flavor palate that is both familiar and unique. Keep in mind that this is a light course before the rest of the menu, so opt for bite-sized versions of larger dishes.

1. Bruschetta and Spritz

Perfect for Italian-inspired menus, this vibrant food and drink combination is equal parts simple as it is extravagant. Lightly toast a baguette and brush thin slices with olive oil and garlic before placing marinated tomatoes and springy basil leaves on top. Pair with a classic spritz straight from Northern Italy to add bubbles and bitterness to your palate.

Serve your cocktails as chilled as possible and only toast and garnish your bruschetta before guests arrive to allow the warmth and crispness from the bread to burst through. Combining a classic appetizer and cocktail from your customer’s cuisine of choice brings a level of authenticity to your menu. This delicious cocktail and passed app combo is great for luncheons or dinner celebrations all year round and will be the talk of your catering event.

Complementing and Contrasting Flavors

Finding similar flavors in both your food and beverage allows for a natural blend of tastes, aromas, and textures. The secret to properly complementing cocktails with appetizers is to avoid flavors that resemble each other. You never want your cocktail and appetizer to have the same base of flavors, as it takes away from the overall experience. Instead, keep a balance between flavors that are alike and completely opposite of each other. Pairing rich, savory appetizers with a more delicate and subtle cocktail is a great way to ensure that your carefully crafted drinks and foods aren’t competing with each other to stand out.

2. Mini Fish Tacos and Margaritas

If your clients are looking for fresh, Latin-inspired zest and tequila, this cocktail and appetizer pairing is perfect for just about every occasion. Although we recommend a traditional lime margarita, you can mix this idea up with a watermelon lime or strawberry margarita as well. Fill soft flour tortillas with extra crispy white fish, punchy fresh salsa, shredded lettuce, guacamole, and enjoy!

The secret is to balance the subtle sourness from chilled margaritas and the acidity fish tacos naturally have with guacamole and fresh vegetables. Perfect for catering events and celebrations set in the summer, your customers will appreciate this refreshing start to their meal.

Keep Things Simple

As always, simplicity is key. More than likely, your guests will probably not want to be overwhelmed with a strong cocktail and appetizer at the beginning of their meal. If you know the rest of your courses are going to be filled with richer, heartier dishes, keeping your drinks and starters light is important to keep in mind when figuring out your menu. Instead of pairing a strong cocktail with a bold appetizer, opt for one or the other in your food presentations. If you decide to go with a full-bodied cocktail, make sure you pair it with an appetizer that is more toned down to provide balance. If you decide to cook up hors d'oeuvres packed with bold flavors, choose a subtle drink that won’t overpower the rest of your food.

3. Sushi and Sake

An Asian-inspired menu just isn’t complete without servings of sushi and glasses of sake sprinkled in somewhere alongside the rest of your mouthwatering courses. So why not let your clients enjoy them right at the beginning of their celebration? While you can choose from a myriad of sushi roll combinations, we suggest sticking to mini classic rolls like a California or spicy tuna.

Set a glass of slightly chilled sake, which has a light, subtle sweetness that meshes perfectly with the mild, tangy components of sushi. The difference in lightness and heaviness between the food and beverage is a great way to play with the build of your cocktail and appetizer combinations. The rice and raw ingredients used in the sushi provide a thicker bite, while the smooth, silky quality of traditional sake brings an element of simplicity to your overall pairing.

Always Include A Mocktail In Your Menu

One of the latest trends to hit restaurants and bars, mocktails are a great solution to those looking to enjoy happy hours, weddings, and other celebrations with an alcohol-free beverage. Providing a selection of mocktails in your drink menu is a great way to be fully accommodating to all guests. Although you might think removing liquors from your cocktails might take away from the overall aroma, taste, and feel of your drinks, this isn’t necessarily true. Mocktails are actually filled with intense extracts, juices, syrups, and essences that create unique and enhanced flavors that you wouldn’t be able to find in your average martini or cosmo. Shaken or stirred, your clients will appreciate the inclusivity in your cocktail menu.

4. Grilled Cheese Sliders and Lavender Green Tea Coolers

No matter what the crowd prefers, childhood classics like grilled cheese, chicken noodle soup, mac and cheese, and fries are always a hit amongst guests. Start by choosing a bread that crisps up nicely and is thick enough to hold layers of cheese without getting too soft or soggy. Slice up your loaf and evenly coat all sides with melted garlic butter before filling with a well-crafted blend of cheeses. Grill until perfectly toasted on all sides and serve still warm.

Pairing mocktails with a classic app everyone will enjoy is a great way to satisfy your alcohol-free clients and even the most skeptical of guests. This unique pairing of green tea, lavender syrup, ginger beer, simple syrup, and lemon juice, is both zesty and sweet. Great for events set in the spring and summer, this refreshing mocktail is a great addition to any cocktail menu and provides a nice contrast with a more traditional grilled cheese. Garnish sliders with fresh mint leaves, plate them with a shot of tomato soup, and serve!

Why Cocktail and Appetizer Pairings Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

Impressing guests at your upcoming catering events is always a must. While placing emphasis on your delicious entrees, sides, desserts, and attentive service are important, a good cocktail and appetizer combination to start things off is just as essential. Your clients are looking to create unforgettable dining experiences for their guests just as much as you are, so it’s important to develop a unique menu that works with their needs. Elevate your next catering event with a cocktail and appetizer menu filled with delicious combinations your guests will be sure to enjoy.

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