Teetotalers need sommeliers too
May 3, 2010 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Pairing food with non-alcoholic beverages: what can non-drinkers drink to make meals more awesome?

I love the way that certain wines (and sometimes beers) go with certain foods - those combinations that make both food and drink taste a little better. My palette isn't really that refined, but now that I'm not drinking, I find that my steak just isn't as good without a glass of cabernet. I already drink milk with my PB&J. What else should I try?
posted by phisbe to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I think pear nectar has a really interesting quality that would go well with lasagne, but I haven't tested it. Still, there's something really distinctive about pear that would definitely bear exploration.
posted by amtho at 9:48 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a fellow non-drinker, I find that cooking with the alcohol in question--for instance, making a wine sauce rather than drinking wine with the meal--is a great way to still use the "pairing" mechanic without actually drinking the alcoholic beverages. Of course there's still going to be some alcohol content, but compared to the actual drink itself, the amounts are usually halved at least. I found myself converted once I used a nice wine in a chicken soup and the flavor profile exploded.
posted by Phyltre at 9:53 AM on May 3, 2010

Tea and Food Combinations

A really comprehensive tea and food pairing website: Pairing Tea with Food
posted by DeltaForce at 9:54 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I gave up alcohol for nine months while my wife was pregnant. I substituted my usual wine/beer pairings entirely with seltzer. I would keep fresh limes, grapefruit juice and pineapple juice around the house, adding just a splash of whichever seemed most appropriate for any given meal.

It's pretty nice actually. I felt like I ended up appreciating the taste of the food a little bit more. Of course, now I'm back to beer and wine with dinner, so it can't have been that nice...
posted by 256 at 10:00 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is an obvious suggestion, but try different kinds of sparkling mineral waters. When traveling, I'm always impressed by my European hosts use of sparkling waters during meals, it's much like the pairing of wine and food - as the flavor of the water varies considerably from one kind to another.
posted by jardinier at 10:04 AM on May 3, 2010

Lassi -- sweet, salty, or mango -- with Indian food.
Horchata with Mexican.
posted by dr. boludo at 10:13 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't drink, and I've been more than happy with Pellegrino or some bubbly mineral water. Some non-alcoholic sparkling cider or juice is nice, too.

2nd-ing Horchata. It is amazing stuff, great with spicy Mexican-esque food.
posted by wowbobwow at 10:17 AM on May 3, 2010

Cucumber water is a great drink. Simply slice a cucumber into disks and stir them into a pitcher of water. Chill. The more cucumber, the more flavor. This is a really light and fragrant drink suitable for meals or just drinking. You can do the same with lemon slices. (Wash the skin of the cucumber or lemon with a tiny amount of dishwashing detergent to get rid of any pesticides, etc. before slicing.) Garnish with a slice of cucumber or lemon on the rim of the glass.

Another great drink, especially in summer, is fruit tea. Brew a pitcherful of any tea you like. (I use tea bags meant to be made into iced tea, which are available at most grocery stores.) Pour in about one part orange juice to two parts tea. Sweeten with whatever you like--I like stevia for this. You can also add lemon slices or lemon juice. This is delicious over ice. Freeze ice cubes from tea if you like your iced tea strong.
posted by Jenna Brown at 10:20 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Dry Soda was designed for exactly this purpose.
posted by KathrynT at 10:47 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rock shandy. Fantastic on a hot day. It's the South African or the Southern African version you want. It's a proper adult drink.*

Angostura bitters is actually alcoholic, but you only put a couple of drops in for flavor.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:51 AM on May 3, 2010

You know, I'm thinking about recipes that combine meat and fruit. There are some definite standard pairings there: pork with apples or cherries; ham with pineapple or melon; chicken or fish with citrus; beef with plums (or, well, prunes).

I imagine those would translate well to drink combinations. Pineapple agua fresca with ham would be untraditional (at least here in the US; could be a cliché in Cuba for all I know) but totally delicious. Cider with pork? Grapefruit juice with fish? Plum nectar with pot roast?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:03 AM on May 3, 2010

Yeah, I came in here to mention that the French Laundry offers pairings with the afformentioned Dry and also Gus sodas, which I consider a pretty strong endorsement. I had the lemongrass Dry the other night with a meal and it was awesome.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 11:38 AM on May 3, 2010

Along the same lines as Dry Soda that KathrynT mentions is GuS, Grown Up Soda. The extra dry ginger ale is my favorite of that line.
posted by BlooPen at 11:40 AM on May 3, 2010

Or microbrew sodas, especially if you have a local brewery that does root beer or birch beer.
posted by BlooPen at 11:49 AM on May 3, 2010

At holidays I always load up on Martinelli's Sparkling Cider for non-drinkers. It's very festive, looks a bit like champagne, and has what I think is a great flavor. As an apple beverage, it goes very well with anything that's traditional American holiday food - turkey, ham, pork roast, etc.
posted by Miko at 12:08 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A New York Times article about chefs pairing food courses with non alcoholic drinks. I second the recommendations for GuS, Grown Up Soda. There are also several vineyards that bottle single varietal grape juice. Navarro Vineyard's Gewuztraminer mixed with seltzer is delicious and has a nice peppery finish. Draper Valley Vineyard has Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Reisling grape juice. The grape juices are sweeter and because they are not fermented do not taste like wines made from the same grapes. But they do have a complex flavor and finish that pairs well with food.
posted by calumet43 at 12:09 PM on May 3, 2010

I've tried sparkling apple juice and other things but I prefer water with good food. Even though I don't drink any more, I still like to add wine to sauces. My favourite is white wine and leafy parsley with any kind of seafood pasta.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:54 PM on May 3, 2010

Seconding the suggestions for sparkling cider of all kinds, but sometimes I like to deviate a bit. I like to play mixologist, sans alcohol. You can make all sorts of wonderful drinks with, say, raspberries macerated with sugar, topped with sparkling pear juice, or maybe making a Bellini knockoff with peach nectar and something bubbly.

Not that I do this for every meal, but when others are mixing drinks of their own to pair with meals, I do it anyway, just without alcohol.
posted by rachaelfaith at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a hibiscus tea called Jamaica (pronounced Ha-my-ka, not like the island) that is just amazing with Mexican Food. It has to be authentic Jamaica and authentic Mexican Food though.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:39 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got some good suggestions in the Askme
posted by saffry at 4:50 PM on May 3, 2010

One of my favorite restaurants in Chicago has a menu that includes some house-made sodas. I haven't tried them, because I do usually drink wine with my meals, but I'm intrigued by the "pink peppercorn thyme soda" every time I'm there. You could try making your own.

If you're not up for DIY soda, Fentiman's makes delicious and unexpected not-too-sweet sodas that come in fabulous looking bottles.
posted by dizziest at 7:26 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thai iced tea goes well with many spicy foods, not just Thai recipes.
posted by roystgnr at 9:19 PM on May 3, 2010

Strong black coffee with any sweet dessert.
posted by marsha56 at 3:30 PM on May 6, 2010

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