There’s nothing wrong with classic food and drink pairings. In many cases, they’re favorites for a reason. Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t long for something a bit more unpredictable from time to time. For the more adventurous diners out there, here are a few unfamiliar pairings to try this season.
Cheeseburger and a Rob Roy. Sure, you can play it safe and have a beer with your burger. You can even have some red wine if you want. To my mind, though, it’s most fun to find a cocktail that can stand up to the bold flavors of a beautifully beefy mid-rare burger. Enter the Rob Roy, which is just a Manhattan made with scotch. Personally, I like to use about a half-ounce of a smokier style (Laphroaig is a good, reasonably priced option) and then two ounces of a smoother blended scotch (Dewar’s does the trick just fine). Some sweet vermouth and a few dashes of bitters finish the drink off. The smokiness works with the grill flavor of the burger, and the slight hint of sweetness draws out the beef’s richness. Plus, you kind of feel like a badass when you order it.
Oysters and a nitro stout. This one is courtesy of Jess White at Shaker and Spear, and it kind of made me scratch my head when she told me about it. I gave it a try, and damned if it doesn’t work! The textural contrast is what does the trick: the beer’s velvety, almost seafoam quality feels like a natural fit with something as sensuous as oysters.
Delicata squash and dry cider. When the hard-shelled squashes start rolling in, few are as prized as delicatas: Last year we actually had a shortage in Seattle! The sweet, nutty flavor they take on when roasted or sautéed is a perfect match for the tart, mild apple notes in any number of local dry ciders. Slightly sweeter styles can work as well, especially if the squash preparation has a spicy component; you’ll want the sweetness to balance that out.
Roasted root veggies and roussanne. As the fall harvest rolls in and we start thinking about hunkering down at home, people forget about white wine. Well, that’s a damn shame, because it’s one of the best times for richer, more textural whites. Roussanne might not be the most acclaimed varietal out there, but it’s starting to show real promise here in Washington. It has a waxy, unctuous texture perfect for roasted root vegetables, and often a slight almond note that also complements them well. You might find a few single-varietal bottlings, though it’s often blended with the similar marsanne and also viognier.
Lamb and mourvèdre. Syrah might be the more classic compliment for lamb, but I prefer its funkier cousin mourvèdre. Intense notes of black pepper on the nose are just what I want with the slight gaminess of lamb, and the rich, earthy flavors are suitable whether you’re grilling, roasting, or braising.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are so many right answers when it comes to pairing. Don’t be afraid to try something new—and if you hit on a winner, let me know about it!