Spring has officially sprung. The daffodils are up, the sun is out, and spring produce is coming into season. After a long winter, it’s always easy to welcome this bounty—juicy strawberries, crisp asparagus, spring peas, crunchy radishes, fresh fava beans and earthy morels are just a few of mother nature’s gifts that are ready for many imaginative kitchen creations.
From garden-fresh salads and velvety vegetable soups to crisp-fried soft-shell crabs and tender roasted legs of lamb, creating enticing lunch and dinner menus that showcase the flavors of spring is practically a no-brainer. But what about catering to guests who, instead of wanting a full sit-down meal, prefer to nosh on some happy hour munchies at the bar while sipping something refreshing? This is where a few carefully crafted bar nibbles highlighting the season’s freshest produce, meats, and seafood paired with an array of wines, cocktails, and craft beer could end up becoming a crowd-pleasing game changer.
So, what should be paired with what? Let’s start with the basics of food and beverage pairings.
When it comes to naturally acidic drinks like champagne, beers, or cocktails (made with soda water, cola, or ginger-ale), they tend to pair well with richer, creamier dishes like salmon in cream sauce, cream-based soups, and even ice cream.
Sweeter drinks such as fortified wines, sweet wines, dessert wines, stouts, or sugary cocktails tend to pair well with spicier foods such as curries, spicy noodles, or Mexican dishes infused with hot peppers. Note: sweeter beverages also go well with salty foods.
Bubbly and effervescent beverages and cocktails tend to pair well with fried foods like fried oysters, onion rings, and fritters, but also go especially well with brunch dishes like poached eggs with hollandaise or smoked salmon and cream cheese. Beer, as the ultimate fizzy beverage, is simply made for fried food. Think: cheeseburgers and fries with a crisp lager or pepperoni pizza with a cold glass of amber ale. Champagne is built for potato chips and dip (a fun bar snack idea) and even goes well with salty, buttery popcorn.
Drinks with lots of tannins or bitter flavors such as dry red wines, smoky whisky-based cocktails, even simple iced tea pair well with rich, fatty, smoky meats such as grilled steak, lamb, or barbecue. A glass of cabernet sauvignon with a hot-off-the-grill NY Strip is a match made in heaven and an IPA with a barbecue sandwich is perfection. A glass of smoky bourbon is great for offsetting the richness of seared pork belly.
For more inspiration, check out these spring food and beverage pairing ideas:
Strawberries are not only versatile in many recipes including appetizers, soups, salads and desserts, but they are also made to pair with different wines, cocktails, mocktails, even beer.
- Strawberry goat cheese crostini with a crispy, clean glass of Pouilly-Fume
- Salad of fresh springs greens with strawberry, fresh mozzarella (or feta or burrata) and balsamic dressing with a fruity wheat beer
- Gruyere (or Swiss) grilled cheese and strawberry jam sandwich with a glass of Pinot Noir
- Strawberry gazpacho with a tequila-based cocktail
Crabs tend to be very popular on restaurant menus and for good reason. They’re sweet, delicious and adapt to a variety of recipes, from sandwiches and salads to serving as the star of the show in an entrée. Since crab is naturally sweet, pairing it with lighter drinks that complement its rich flavor is best.
- Crab stuffed deviled eggs with a glass of sparkling wine
- Soft shell crab sandwiches with a mint or basil mojito
- Crab hushpuppies with remoulade or tartar sauce and a glass of Chablis
- Crab cakes with lemon aioli and a Hefeweizen beer
Spring peas are a highlight each year and their natural starchiness is made to hold up in many different dishes, especially small plates and bar nibbles. Crisp, lemony, even earthy-nuanced beverages are excellent pairing options.
- Spring pea and mint hummus with Sauvignon Blanc
- Old school pea salad with cheddar cheese and a crisp pilsner
- Spring pea soup with heavy cream and lemon with a shot of Aquavit
- Spring pea risotto with a glass of Vermentino
Spring lamb is a rite of passage and is highly versatile in a variety of dishes. Best of all, leftover dinner lamb can be repurposed for lunch, brunch or bar snack dishes with ease. Because lamb tends to be rich in flavor and gamey-ness, dryer, tannic beverages will pair best.
- Slow roasted lamb sandwiches with an aperitif like a dry Madeira
- Yogurt curry lamb pita sandwiches with a wild ale beer
- Grilled lamb chops with a classic whiskey old fashioned
- Middle Eastern spiced lamb meatballs with Syrah
Nothing says spring is here more than the arrival of fresh asparagus and it makes its worthy appearance on menus everywhere. However, asparagus also happens to be notoriously difficult to pair with wine (as well as other beverages) as it can make wine, in particular, taste metallic. That being said, all is not lost when it comes to pairing asparagus with wine. Just stick to lighter, more acidic white wines which tend to stave off metallic flavors.
- Pickled asparagus salad (or add pickled asparagus to a cheese platter) and pair it with Bloody Marys
- Asparagus “fries” dipped in garlic aioli with Sauvignon Blanc
- Grilled asparagus with herbed mayo dipping sauce with a German-style amber lager
- Asparagus and prosciutto tart with an Alsatian Reisling