Patricia Noonan scans the shelves for interesting BBQ booze…

Everyone doesn’t automatically go for wine or beer when the grill is on. For the cocktail lover in you, there are lots of options when it comes to matching cocktails with grilled food. In fact, when including spirits with grilled fare, just follow similar wine and food pairing rules.

Lighter dishes, especially with citrusy marinades, tropical or Asian styled condiments on the side beg for white spirits like vodka, gin, white rum and tequila or pisco. A new vodka to check out is the Nikka Coffey Vodka from Japan, made from corn and barley as the grain sources for this ‘coffey’ or column distilled spirit. Using corn for the distillate contributes to a smoother mouthfeel and a hint of sweetness, although it is a neutral spirit. Gin is always in and it’s a match for any citrus juice too. Caorrunn is a fairly recent import in the gin department. From Speyside in  the Scottish Highlands, it uses the traditional botanicals gin must have, but also five handpicked Celtic botanicals, including Rowan berries, which the gin is named for. It’s the Gaelic word for the berry. I am a big fan of our local gins, especially Reid’s, but recently tried a lovely pink gin from Muskoka Spirits. The addition of pink peppercorns  and hibiscus flowers with the botanicals imparts a faint pink hue, but it has all the classic aromas and flavors expected in gin. 

For seafood, shrimp or chicken dishes on the grill, match up marinades to juices that will go into the cocktail. For a Tex-Mex theme, spice up a Margarita (pictured above) with Ancho Reyes, a liqueur infused with ancho chile, cinnamon and cacao and let the fruity spice in the drink dance with your dish.

Herbal infused cocktails like a classic mojito make a refreshing match to cool down a spicy rub on chicken or ribs or middle eastern inspired rubs like Harissa chicken. I use white rum in a mojito, but in a pinch, an amber rum works just fine, giving an extra boost in flavor from the ageing process. 

For the BBQ boss making spicier recipes, contrast the dish with a slightly sweet or fruity cocktail. Think classic cocktails like Gimlets, Daiquiris or Margaritas, all classic sours that are shaken and served either without ice or strained into a tumbler with ice for a longer drink. Change up the citrus juices or combine fruit juices and try out different liqueurs to modify a classic cocktail recipe.

In the rum department, amber or dark rums, especially fuller flavoured rums like El Dorado or  Appleton Estate, can go either way. It all depends on what you’re mixing the spirit with and the marinade or preparation method you’re using. Planning on ribs braised in pineapple juice before grilling with a spicy rub and BBQ sauce, a personal favorite of mine? Then go tropical with a Pineapple Rum Driver. You got it; just switch up orange juice for pineapple and vodka for rum. With steak on the BBQ, try a Dark ‘n Stormy – its  ginger beer and Goslings dark rum (-the original dark rum used in this signature cocktail ) stands up to the smokiness imparted by the grill and a solid spicy sauce.

In the whisky department, especially if you’re using hickory or maple flavours in your food prep, go for a whisky-based cocktail like an Old Fashioned for refreshment. Use a bourbon  like 6 Year Old Templeton Rye, with spicy elements coming from the grain or a solid Canadian whisky like Forty Creek, Wiser’s Deluxe, Godderham & Worts, or your preferred whiskey style. If you’re the chef, splash a little whisky into the marinade before hitting the grill. It’s all about complementing or contrasting the food with the cocktail.