For many of us, habit is too often the determining factor when it comes to pairing our food with something to drink. This makes sense: The intersection of what’s on our plate with what’s in our glass has the potential to be complicated, and while a catastrophic pairing is rare—one that makes both the food and the beverage worse than they are on their own—the classics are an easy, if too often boring, crutch to lean on.
I was reminded of this recently at a media lunch unveiling this year’s limited-edition Hennessy V.S. Cognac bottle, whose label has been beautifully designed by Shepard Fairey, the renowned artist behind the iconic “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” graphic and the Barack Obama “Hope” poster, among many others. The event was held at Pod Restaurant, and the delicious family-style lunch, with its distinctly Asian and South East Asian flavors, was exactly the sort of meal that the vast majority of people would enjoy alongside a well-chosen beer.
This one, however, was paired up with two Hennessy cocktails—I kept on sipping the Revolution, with a subtle jalapeño spice overlaying an undertow of bitters and the sweeter notes of the cognac—and the intersection of the food and the drink was phenomenal.
It highlighted how well Asian and South East Asian food pairs with a range of beverages, despite the fact that they are most often enjoyed with beer. The key is to know just a few tricks.
Very spicy food, for example, will feel like it’s spontaneously combusting on your tongue if your beverage is too high in alcohol. So if you’re having a brutally hot Thai curry, for example, it’s best to avoid a higher-octane cocktail. But more delicately spiced food can actually pair quite well with a drink that’s buttressed by a bit more booze. Allow each individual dish, and drink, to be your guide.
Fried dishes, on the other hand, tend to do remarkably well with sparkling wines. I’ve mentioned this before in these pages, but it bears repeating: The higher acid and bubbles in a good sparkler cut through the fat and oil, and in turn allow the other flavors being cocooned in that fried crust to really shine through. A spring roll with a glass of Champagne or Prosecco, for example, is a beautiful thing. And when it comes to Asian or South East Asian dishes, there are plenty of great still wines to drink alongside them: Depending on the protein, seasoning, sauce and cooking method, I’ve had lots of good luck popping the corks from Beaujolais from France, Zweigelt from Austria, Chenin Blanc from South Africa and more.
And of course, you can always stick to beer. But with all the great local brews we have access to here, and at such remarkably fair prices, there’s absolutely no reason at all not to sip two or three with your meal. Pad Thai—or beef pho or curry or banh mi or any of a million other dishes—will taste completely different alongside a super-hoppy IPA, a wheat and a classic lager. The preference for one over another may be personal, but the sense of discovery and excitement that results from alternating sips of different beers, or wines or cocktails or spirits, is universal.
Now, get drinking.