As we enter February, a month focused on love, desire, and partnership, it felt natural to talk about great food matches for the nonalcoholic beverages we love. We turned to John deBary, a friend of Boisson, creator of Proteau, mixologist, and author of many beverage guides to highlight pairings perfect for the nonalcoholic drinker. — Boisson
John deBary's Food and Nonalcoholic Drink Pairing Guide
The most important rule of food and beverage pairings is this: there are no rules. For me, the idea of a rule implies that there is a way to do something objectively “wrong.” Eating and drinking are some of the most subjective experiences a person can enjoy—so as long as the experience is pleasurable, it’s impossible to do wrong.
That said, there are some general principles that many find useful, especially if you’re just starting out and exploring what your preferences are. The most helpful principle is of matching intensity: lightly flavored and textured food usually pairs well with similarly light drinks; spicy, intense food is well-supported by big, bold beverages. “Highlighting” is another principle that I love; this is where you use an element of one to highlight a subtle element in another. For example, let’s say you have a spicy fennel sausage, you might use a drink that also has fennel notes to draw out that component from the drink and dish. The third major principle I work with is of “opposites” where you couple conflicting elements in order to create harmony. Think acid and sweet, salty and bitter, spicy and soft.
Before launching my own brand of food-friendly zero-proof drinks, I spent nine years working for the Momofuku restaurant group where I was the company’s first Bar Director. Needless to say I have spent some time thinking about how to maximize the eating and drinking experience. In most circumstances, the term “beverage pairing” means “wine pairing,” which makes sense. Wine’s sweetness, acidity, and overall profile make an ideal companion to many cuisines, but to only focus on fermented grape juice is to take an extremely narrow view of the many pleasures that thoughtful pairings can provide. Furthermore, since the explosion of non-alcoholic drink brands in the past few years, there has never been a better time to take an accessible, expansive, and multi-format approach to food and beverage pairings.
A useful thought experiment as you’re devising pairings: if the idea of dipping the food in the drink is appealing to you, there’s a good chance the pairing will work. (Because ultimately that’s what’s happening in your mouth—not to get too visceral!)
Here, I’ve put together a small collection of drinks that are my non-alcoholic pairing go-tos. As you explore on your own, remember the no-rules rule: as long as you like what you’re drinking and you like what you’re eating, there’s no mistake.
Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling Non-Alcoholic Riesling – High-acid sparkling wines are perhaps my favorite non-alcoholic wines. This sparkling Riesling, made in Germany, is a great accompaniment for lighter, pre-sunset fare. Oysters, scallop crudo, and lightly-dressed salads would make a perfect pairing for this sparkler. Bonus: the bubbles also act as a subtle palate cleanser, helping to refresh your taste buds for the more substantial stuff ahead.
Proteau Rivington Spritz – A little bit of shameless self-promotion here. I designed Rivington Spritz to be a perfect aperitif: the bitter botanicals—gentian, Chinese rhubarb, and chamomile—help liven the palate, while the hibiscus, strawberry and champagne vinegar offer the right amount of acidity and sweetness. I love pairing this with a balsamic-dressed watermelon salad, or with a robust charcuterie board.
Jukes 6 – For me, the best stand-ins for red wine, aren’t non-alcoholic red wines, but drinks that seek to arrive at a similar profile but through different means. A great example of this is Jukes. Their “cordialities” are concentrated blends of vinegar and aromatics that, when mixed with (sparkling) water, provide a red-wine-like experience. Jukes 6 is all about pasta pairings in my opinion—from carbonara to arrabiata, you can’t go wrong with red fruity-and-spicy notes you find in the glass.
Proteau Ludlow Red – My starting point for Proteau was to craft drinks that were perfect with food, straight from the bottle. For Ludlow Red I was inspired by red Bordeaux wines, as well as fortified wines and vermouths. Even though black pepper plays a starring role in Ludlow Red, some of the best pairings are with super spicy foods. The soft, semi-sweet licorice element a cooling counterpart to the heat you might find in Ma Po Tofu, Texas chili, or laal maas.
Malted Opal – How disappointing would it be if a bartender did not include a cocktail in their beverage pairing guide? I concocted this drink as an ideal dessert pairing. Many drinks don’t quite have the sweetness to “hold up” against rich desserts like ice creams and cakes, but a carefully-crafted cocktail can really hit the mark. This drink is a blend of Gnista Barelled Oak, a woody/spicy Swedish spirit, blended with Roots Divino’s “Rosso,” which is a dead-ringer for sweet vermouth, along with malty, semi-sweet oatmeal stout. Supported by a small spot of simple syrup, this drink has a layered aromatic complexity that will accentuate the richness in desserts featuring vanilla ice creams and chocolate cakes.