Soft drinks and low and non-alcohol beers and wines are not just for Christmas.
Designated drivers and teetotal adults would welcome the same respect being afforded to non-alcoholic beverages as is already given to alcoholic drinks when it comes to pairing food and beverages.
The soft drinks industry is starting to take the idea seriously because it realises such a move can give pub restaurants and bars an edge and sell more products.
Britvic senior shopper marketing manager for out of home Russell Kirkham says: “Ultimately, pairing requires consideration and understanding of matching flavours. Just like wine and beer matches, it’s about complementing the different dishes effectively.
Britvic has carried out “extensive” work on its brands in this area. It works with mixologists and chefs to make suggestions and uses tasting notes to help with the process.
Pepsi Max, for instance, goes with meat – particularly a good-quality burger – whereas Lipton Ice Tea works with strong-flavoured dishes, such as Mexican, says Kirkham, because it helps clear the palate.
Kirkham says licensees should look to their wholesalers and supplier brands for direction, and take advantage of sessions available at trade shows and events to get a greater understanding of what is out there and what works.
“However, nothing beats trialling these things yourself and learning what works for you and your customers. Use your staff’s expertise to help inform the choices and matches – it will also aid them when explaining to customers what is on offer and is a great team building opportunity to boot,” Kirkham advises.
Steve Magnall, chief executive at St Peter’s Brewery, which produces Without: Alcohol-Free Beer, dismisses “standard” colas and their ilk for pairing but says there is a benefit to pairing “drinks that have substance”.
Pairing non or low-alcoholic products should be no different to traditional pairing, he says.
Making it up as you go along is unwise, as Amy Burgess, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) trade communications manager, points out. “It’s important to use common sense. For example, a cheesecake and a milkshake are both quite heavy and sweet, and will get sickly very quickly,” she says.
Luscombe Drinks founder and chairman Gabriel David agrees: “You need to trust the brand that makes the suggestion. It’s not a lucky-dip approach. If you wing it, do so at your peril. It’s only a matter of time before you are no longer trusted, and to trust is key in any transaction.”
The Urban Cordial Company managing director Natasha Steele says successful pairing is trial and error.
“You need to consider what is the main element of the dish, what herbs or spices are being used, and what element you want to be complemented more.
“You also want to think of what happens to your palate after each mouthful of the dish. Some dishes will naturally be able to take strong, sharp flavours, whereas others will not and this will all come to fruition when studying a menu and seeing what can go with it.”
Gavin Cox, managing director of Free Spirit, producer of “premium crafted fruit drinks”, suggests that working with your chef and bar team to “play around” with matches that work is a good place to start and then try them out on regulars.
Cox says a cheese-based appetiser such as goats’ cheese would work well with his company’s Spicy Tomato, where a drink must be “bold and punchy to stand up to the cheese”.
Orange is a classic accompaniment for poultry so, for a starter such as chicken liver parfait.
And he recommends the company’s Lemon & Yuzu with Asian-style dishes to bring out the aromatic flavours such as lemongrass and coriander.
CCEP’s Burgess recommends evaluating what produce is in season, matching the aroma, flavour and texture or, if you do not want to play it safe, try contrasting flavours – such as pairing a rich and creamy dish with a drink that is high in acidity.
“This way, the freshness of the drink will cut through the richness of the food and refresh the palate,” she says.
Britvic’s Kirkham says consumers are taking a huge interest in all aspects of their eating-out experience and the best outlets are putting as much effort into their drinks offering as their food.
“Those that get it right will be rewarded with more repeat visits and increased dwell time – which can only mean good things for their bottom lines,” he says.
Gusto Organic chief executive William Fugard adds that it is “profoundly” unfair consumers have such a broad choice of alcoholic beverages yet, in some establishments, the soft drinks offer is “at best predictable, at worst, dictated by ‘the gun’.”
Pairing suggestions and tips
Steve Smith, head chef; and Dimitri Marqueteau, food and beverage manager; at Michelin-starred Bohemia Bar & Restaurant, St Helier, Jersey
Christmas three-course meal:
- Starter – parsnip & vacherin set cream with winter vegetable salad – pair with warm spiced apple juice
- Main course – turkey leg confit, parsnip, rainbow chard and thyme gravy – pair with cranberry juice
- Dessert – caramel cream, dulce de leche, yuzu – pair with coffee
- Appetisers – the soft drink must be light (still or sparkling water)
- Starters – this drink must not be too heavy, a light mocktail works well (a refreshing virgin Mojito)
- Fish courses – consider the flavours of the fish. It is the same as pairing an alcoholic drink so the drink must be light and possibly with citrus flavours.
- Other main courses – consider the flavours of the dishes and what other flavours complement it best. The soft drink pairing must bring out the flavours in the main course rather than overshadow it. A heavy meat dish must be paired with a strong flavoured soft drink.
- Desserts – the final soft drink pairing must be refreshing and cleanse the palate (mint tea for a refreshing finish or coffee to pair with chocolate flavoured desserts).