When you have a detailed discourse on the alcobev industry, you should never round it off without a discussion on alcoholic beverages and food pairing. The session on food pairing with alcoholic beverages, which was moderated by the beverage expert & Co-Founder, ScopeBev, Ankur Chawla, made for an enlightening experience. Experts on the panel included Shatbhi Basu, Director & Creative Consultant at STIR Academy of Bartending, Sandy Verma, Founder & CEO of Institute of Bar Operations & Management, Delhi, Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO, VBev, Chef Saby & Chef Nishant Choube.

Moderator Ankur Chawla set the tone of the discussion when he asked how many among the panellists and the audience were purist and progressive. “Pairing of food and alcoholic beverages in common parlance is largely about food and wine pairing but it is more than that. I recently read a menu which was about five different styles of beers paired with a five-course menu! What if someone wants to start with one spirit, then move to a whisky-based cocktail and end with gin-tonic for dessert? We want to go beyond our preconceived notions about pairing and understand where are we heading,” he elaborated.

Balance is the key to enjoy the pairing

“We are the largest consumers of whisky, brandy or rum in the world. We have spirits with friends and we end up finishing the bottle. Most of the time, we have whisky, brandy or rum on pre-meal, with some heavy snacks, which are generally spicy and oily,” said Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO, VBev while talking of drinking habits among Indians, by and large.

“By the time we reach the dinner table we don’t know what to taste. To me, that is a worrying factor for our health. If we strike a balance, we can check ourselves from getting drunk and we can enjoy the food and alcoholic beverage pairing experience much better,” he added categorically.

Sumedh also cautioned that as these days consumers were more aware and evolved, repeating the same kind of food and alcoholic beverages pairings could easily become monotonous for them after a while. Sumedh also viewed that Indian cuisine is not the ideal cuisine to be paired with wine, but it can paired.

Beer pairs well with Indian food

Chef Saby talked about having beer paired dinners during his stint in Australia. “In 2003, when I came back to India, I did a tasting menu in Mumbai. It comprised 12 courses with 7-8 wines,” he disclosed. “People nowadays have great interest in cocktails and we are doing paired dinners with cocktails,” he averred. Overall, Chef Saby feels that beer goes better with Indian food than wine does.

Thinking out of the box

“Food and alcoholic beverage pairing is about the Chef and the beverage expert coming together to understand how the drink will match with the food or vice-versa. Consumers are bored of doing the same thing over and over again, and want to experiment, “ opined Shatbhi Basu, Director & Creative Consultant at STIR Academy of Bartending.

Shatbhi also urged us to dispel our preconceived notions about the food and alcoholic beverage pairing process. “You may say biryani and wine does not work but at La Reserve in Bengaluru pairing of biryani with wine was outstanding. Wine is even great with dal makhani, palak paneer and roti. Where there is a will there is a way, especially where there is an understanding of flavours,” asserted Shatbhi. She also felt that food and alcoholic beverage pairings could be inspired by the principles of aromatherapy. “We can creatively use aromas to play with food and wine pairings,” she observed wisely.

Shatbhi also dispelled the popular but unscientific apprehensions associated with mixing drinks. “Mixing drinks does no harm. Your liver and your body only recognise alcohol; it is only your brain which recognises what you are drinking. It is about your mouth, happiness and purely about joy. There are two ways of pairing – complement and contrast. So, if it is an Indian dish and it has spices then look at its contrast which is sweet or look at complimenting it,” the expert elaborated.

She feels great food & beverage pairing is “all about finding connections and finding joy.”

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