A glass of wine over dinner, a gin, and tonic with crisps, or a tumbler of whisky with a cheese board; nothing quite brings out the flavours of food like an expertly paired alcoholic beverage.
The gentle buzz and savoury or sweet flavours in alcohol can enhance a dish in a way that soft drinks and water cannot.
Speaking of alcohol enhancing food, this week, the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS) hosted a virtual tasting and food pairing as part of its “Cheers! Spirits from the USA” campaign featuring celebrity chef, radio and television personality Jenny Morris, also known as the Giggling Gourmet, and renowned mixologist, Mmiso Luphondo, known as Mmisology the Mixologist.
Morris and Luphondo showcased a selection of American distilled spirits including America’s native spirit – Bourbon, and shared tips on how to integrate them into festive seasonal entertaining.
They believe the versatility of US distilled spirits can shine during the holiday season, whether in seasonal cocktails or enhancing celebratory meals.
The top spirits for summer entertaining.
James Bay Lochside Summer Gin No 5
As one of South Africa’s current favourite spirits, gin is a great drink for summer celebrations and James Bay Lochside Summer Gin No 5 is an award-winning citrus-forward gin perfect for light summer cocktails.
Luphondo suggested serving a classic Gin Sour or Gimlet as a welcome drink or apéritif.
He says it is light and fresh and cleanses the palate, and that people are also loving simple gin with elderflower tonic during summer.
Morris added that gin pairs well with fresh seafood such as langoustines and mussels, and can even be added to the poaching water providing a new dimension to steamed seafood.
Whistling Andy Hibiscus Coconut Rum
Nothing says summer holidays like rum-based tropical cocktails, and Whistling Andy Hibiscus Coconut Rum takes the island flavours a step further with an infusion of real hibiscus flowers and coconut.
Morris said this could work well in a citrus and coconut sauce with chicken, while Luphondo said that as a cocktail, it would be great in a coconut daiquiri with fresh pineapple.
Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey
American Rye Whiskey generally has a spicier profile than other American whiskeys.
Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey, a blend of two straight rye mash bills, aged four to six years in American oak barrels, adds notes of candied dried orange, clove and nutmeg to its spicy complexity.
Morris said this could pair well with peppered chicken, lamb or steak – thanks to its spiciness, while Luphondo noted that in cocktails, it would work with ingredients like fresh apple juice, ginger and bitters.
Flag Hill’s Sugar Maple Liqueur
While delicious neat, Morris suggested Flag Hill’s Sugar Maple Liqueur which is distilled from fresh apples and maple syrup, could also be used to flambé and drizzle over fresh nectarines, topped with mascarpone, for a simple yet show-stopping dessert.
Luphindo said using a uniquely flavoured spirit such as this also presents opportunities to give a fresh twist to classic cocktails like the South Africa’s old favourite Dom Pedro with milk and ice cream.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Maker’s Mark Bourbon, featuring soft red winter wheat for a distinctive sweetness, adds robust flavour and complexity to festive treats such as Morris’s chocolate bourbon balls, featuring crushed almonds, crumbed shortbread biscuits, cocoa powder, honey, and almond essence.
Here’s a recipe that you can try at home.
Chocolate Bourbon Balls
½ cup almonds, finely crushed
2½ cup shortbread biscuits crumbs
⅛ tsp salt
½ cup Bourbon
¾ tsp almond essence
1 cup icing sugar
3 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ tbsp honey
¾ cup vermicelli chocolate for rolling the truffles.
Place the biscuit crumbs and nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Place the Bourbon, almond essence, icing sugar, cocoa powder and honey into a bowl and stir together until smooth.
Spoon the Bourbon mixture into the biscuit mixture and pulse until just combined.
Spoon the mixture into a bowl and gather it into a ball.
Let it rest at room temperature for 60 minutes.
Divide the mixture into small balls and roll them in chocolate vermicelli, making sure they are covered evenly. This makes 12 truffles.