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Food and Drinks: Pairing 101

a piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden table

Pairing drinks with food can enhance the dining experience, and it's not just about wine. Spirits, beer and non-alcoholic drinks can also be paired with food to create a delightful combination. Wine and other cocktails should always complement a meal - not compete or overpower it. In this guide, we will cover the basic principles of pairing drinks with food, including acidity, tannins, alcohol level, and sweetness factors.


Acidity is an essential factor to consider when pairing drinks with food. High-acidity drinks can cut through the richness of dishes and refresh the palate. Examples of acidic drinks include lemonade, limeade, or grapefruit juice. A crisp and refreshing beer like a pilsner or a sour beer can also pair well with a salad dressed in a citrus vinaigrette. A crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with a tomato-based pasta dish, while a citrusy Riesling can be an excellent match for spicy Asian cuisine. On the other hand, if a wine is too acidic for the dish, it can overwhelm the flavors and leave a sour taste in your mouth.


Tannins are compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and oak barrels that give the wine a bitter or astringent taste. Tannins are more prevalent in red wines, particularly those aged or fermented with grape skins. Tea and coffee also have tannins. When pairing food with tannic drinks, it's essential to match the intensity of the tannins with the dish's richness. For example, a tannic red wine like a Bordeaux or a Malbec can pair well with fatty foods such as a steak, lamb chops, or a rich, hearty beef stew. The tannins in the wine can help cut through the fat and protein in the meat, balancing out the flavors and making the wine taste smoother. A bitter beer like a brown ale or a porter can also work well with many dishes, everything from a cheeseburger to chocolate.

Alcohol Level

The alcohol level is another factor to consider when pairing drinks with food. Drinks with high alcohol content tend to have a fuller body and a more intense flavor, which can overpower delicate dishes. Conversely, lighter drinks with lower alcohol content may not hold up to heavier or spicier foods. For example, a full-bodied beer like an imperial stout pairs well with a hearty steak, while a lighter lager may be better suited for grilled fish. A spicy curry might better complement a sweeter, lower-alcohol wine like a Gewürztraminer or a Riesling rather than a high-alcohol red. Regarding non-alcoholic drinks, sparkling water or fruit juice can be a refreshing complement to spicy foods.


Sweetness is another crucial factor to consider when pairing drinks with food. Sweet drinks are generally best for desserts or dishes with a sweet component, while dry drinks are better suited for savory dishes. For example, a sweet iced tea can pair well with a slice of pecan pie, while a dry cider or a Belgian ale is better suited for a grilled chicken sandwich.

Tips to Consider

Other Essential Tips to Consider:


• Intensity of the flavors: a rich, hearty Italian dish like lasagna pairs well with a bold, full-bodied Chianti from the Tuscany region.


• Weight and Textures: For instance, a light and fruity Belgian saison or a German wheat beer goes well with a classic French dish like coq au vin.


In conclusion, pairing food and cocktails can be a delightful experience that enhances both the taste of the food and the drink. It's not an exact science, but with some basic knowledge of acid, alcohol levels, sweetness, and tannins, as well as tips on balancing flavors, you can create successful pairings that elevate your dining experience. Remember to consider the intensity of the flavors and the weight and texture of the food and drink. Ultimately, the key is experimenting and finding what works for you and your palate. With some practice and trial and error, you'll be well on your way to becoming a food and beverage pairing expert. 

Start pairing your favorite meals and beverages at Back Bay Social! Make a reservation to secure your table and prepare for an unforgettable dining experience. For more information about Back Bay Social, please contact us by calling 617-247-3200 or filling out our online contact form. We look forward to serving you soon!