Cocktail Pair-Offs

Pairing isn’t just for wine; which cocktails go with food and which don’t?

We know how fun wine pairing can be. After all, wine dinners are built upon this art. Craft beer dinners too, although that’s less common.

But what about cocktails? We never hear about how to pair mixed drinks with dinner or dessert. Or even if we should. Often mixed drinks are served before dinner or with hors d’oeuvres only.

We cornered two experts in fine culinary and mixology arts to help. At Half Moon Restaurant in Dobbs Ferry, Fernando Oliveira, the manager, maître’d, and sommelier, collaborated with Enrique Estrada, the executive chef, to give us tips with examples of specific cocktails and dishes at their restaurant.

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What we’ve discovered is that a good pairing is a study in complementing contrasts, such as sweet and spice or herbs with bitter. Although sometimes, matching your drink and food flavors works wonderfully too.

Draw from these suggestions how to combine similar foods and cocktails:

The sweet potato crème brûlée with mixed berries and a tuile cookie works well with the Pumpkin Spice cocktail, which uses Fulton’s Pumpkin Spice Liquor, Amaretto Di Saronno, Cruzan Vanilla Rum, and a fresh dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg. “A beautiful harmony of pumpkin, cream, spices and sweet, burnt sugar,” he says.

The Prince Edward Island mussels with tomato, chipotle, and cilantro broth with a side of fries pairs well with the Caribbean Rose cocktail (above), which has Bacardi Light rum, Aperol, fresh muddled strawberry, basil, and fresh lemon juice. “The combination of light, delicate fruits, herbs, and bitters blend so well together here,” Oliveira says.

The Cider Bourbon Cocktail

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The spicy tuna tartar with fresh avocado, pickled lotus root, minced ginger, wonton crisps, and soy-lime-ginger dressing works well with the Cider Bourbon Cocktail, which has Scott Fitzgerald Larceny 92 proof Bourbon, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, cold apple cider, ginger, and lemon juice. “The bourbon’s light smokiness, apple cider, ginger, and acidity harmonize well together with the spicy tuna,” he says.

For Half Moon’s duck tacos with crisp wontons, guacamole, and pico de gallo, they recommend sipping on the Half Spiced Gin with Hendricks Gin, muddled jalapeno, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup in a glass half-rimmed with salt. “Gin and duck are a great pair, as well as the contrast of sweetness and spice,” Oliveira says. “Acidity in the cocktail also stands up to the richness of the avocado.”

And what about when you’re eyeing that pastrami on rye? Well, rye whiskey, of course. That’s a no-brainer. The Uptown Rye Manhattan with J. P. Wiser’s Rye Whiskey, Antico Rosso Vermouth, orange bitters and house-brandied cherries is a great accompaniment to Half Moon’s house-cured and smoked pastrami and rye sandwich with Kosciusko mustard, spicy pineapple coleslaw and fries.

At brunch or lunch, people love to pair their lobster avocado salad with the Champagne Dreams cocktail. It’s a French sparkler with Stirrings All Natural Peach liqueur, Marquis de la Tour sparkling wine, French brandy, and fresh muddled citrus fruits. “The sparkling wine, refreshing and citrus-infused, just opens your palate to enjoy the richness of the lobster, avocado, and endive,” Oliveira says.

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A clean, refreshing cocktail (such as The Patron Saint with Pyrat Rum XO Reserve, fresh muddled mint, ginger, and lemon, with a Stellina di Notte Prosecco float) pairs well with the complex flavors of their crispy tempura ahi tuna sushi dish, with crispy brown rice, nori, hijiki salad, and wasabi cream sauce.

Happy pairing.

To practice your newly found wine drinking knowledge, go to Wine & Food Fest and learn about this magazine’s June 8-11 festival.

Connect with this reporter: @AmySowder on Twitter, @GoudaGoodness on Instagram or at


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