When it comes to food and drink pairings, most of us tend to be pretty old school. As in, red with beef, white with fish.
But that's a pretty broad brush with which to paint the way we eat and drink. Most meals are comprised of a symphony of flavors and textures, any one or more of which could be the inspiration for a drink pairing. Seasonings, for example, often play a bigger role in determining the flavor profile of a dish than the main ingredient does.
This is particularly true in summer, when we are wont to slather barbecue sauce onto whatever we throw on the grill. At this point, the meat or veggies are far less important to a pairing than the ingredients used in the barbecue sauce. Which is to say, a brown sugar-bourbon barbecue sauce would want the same drink whether it's on a chicken breast or a beef tip.
To help you start thinking along these lines, I created three deliciously different barbecue sauces that are versatile enough to be used on whatever you care to grill - a tangy apricot and brown sugar barbecue sauce; a Central American recado rojo, which is rich with oregano, cumin and ancho chili powder; and a balsamic strawberry jalapeno sauce.
Then I sent off these recipes to Davin Affrunti, a mixology master and bar director for Prospect Restaurant in San Francisco.
"In considering what to pair with each sauce, I definitely think about what might be the most prominent flavors when completed," he explained via email. "Spices can react tricky depending on the preparation, as can citrus and acid. Finding ways to complement these flavors is crucial."
And when it comes to barbecue sauces, that isn't always easy. By definition, these sauces tend to be big and bold. That can be a lot to consider. The tangy apricot barbecue sauce is a great example.
"There appears to be a lot going on here, from stone fruit like apricot to tropical fruit like pineapple, to various spices," he said. "My initial goal would be to find something that subtly cuts through the spices, yet still leaves a refreshing zing at the end. I'm thinking something like ginger beer would be a great go-to."
One choice would be a dark and stormy, a classic cocktail that blends dark rum, fresh lime juice and ginger beer. Or there is his own creation, the Sword and Stone, which blends rye, sweet vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse, apricot shrub (a blend of fresh apricots, cider vinegar and sugar) and bitters.
For the recado rojo, Affrunti wanted to work with the sweet, peppery and slightly nutty profile of the sauce.
"Because of the tangy cider vinegar component, something fresh and aromatic would be a great pick," he said. "Circling back to the prominent annatto of Central and South America, Brazil's signature caipirinha (a Brazilian drink) seems appropriate."
He also suggests his own Golden Gate Julep, which starts by muddling mint leaves, wildflower honey and orange flower water, then stirring in bourbon and ice.
Finally, there is the balsamic strawberry barbecue sauce, the very definition of "lots going on."
"This is perhaps the wild card of the bunch. I feel that sticking to darker spirits (like rum and whiskey) generally work best for barbecue, but in this case I will make an exception," he said. "I want to lean toward tequila because of the jalapeno, yet I feel like something with basil might be awesome with the strawberry, especially to tame the heat. So I will give you both."
In this case, both means a strawberry-basil gimlet and his own recipe for Road to Rosarita, his version of a strawberry margarita.
Tangy Apricot Barbecue Sauce
•3 large apricots, pitted and chopped
•1 medium yellow onion, chopped
•3/4 cup (6 ounces) pineapple juice
•1/4 cup packed brown sugar
•4 cloves garlic, chopped
•1 teaspoon ground cumin
•1/2 teaspoon chili powder
•1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
•1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine all ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender and the apricot chunks begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return to the saucepan and simmer over medium heat until reduced by a quarter. Transfer to a bowl and use immediately for grilled chicken breasts, turkey burgers or salmon steaks. Or cover and refrigerate up to a week.
Yield: 3 cups