By Jorge Fitz
Herbal Essence Mexican Epazote
Carlos Andrés Ramírez, Global Advocacy Manager Altos Tequila
Sep 12, 2021
By Carlos Andrés Ramírez, Global Advocacy Manager of Altos Tequila
When we talk about pairing, we almost always think of wine and food. However, mixology, or the art of mixing drinks, opens up an infinite world of possibilities when it comes to harmonizing handcrafted cocktails with all types of foods, and Mexican flavors offer an especially exciting opportunity. The objective: to find that third flavor that will captivate our clients’ palates.
Given that the majority of cocktail bars around the world offer very interesting proposals on their food menus, we consider it important to share our expertise in cocktail creation that pairs perfectly with the offerings on a menu.
Before we begin, let’s define some key pairing concepts in order to have a clear idea of how to harness the creative process when bringing our next Mexican flavors-inspired cocktail to life.
The word pairing references union and harmony. When it comes to food and beverages, it is the technique used to potentiate and harmonize the flavors of both elements, achieving a perfect balance – creating a third flavor on our palate.
When we combine foods with beverages, each of them contributes special flavors and characteristics when combined in the mouth.
If for any reason we don’t achieve that third harmonious flavor that we are seeking, we can cause a very unpleasant taste on the palate.
One example of a pairing mistake is when an astringent beverage like red wine with a high level of tannins, or a bitter spirit, is combined with seafood. This causes an immediate metallic taste in the mouth and ruins the experience!
In fact, foods like onion, garlic, artichoke or asparagus should be considered with much caution because they are difficult to pair – not only with wines, but with cocktails as well.
This is why it is important to have some useful pairing tools.
This is the most common type of pairing and seeks to harmonize similar flavors. When in doubt, it’s best to go with similar flavors. For example, if you have an acidic cocktail, like a margarita, choose a dish with high citric content, such as a ceviche.
Sweet cocktails like an old fashioned work well with dishes containing dried fruits or dark chocolate. A dry martini or a negroni, known for their bitterness, are ideal with olives, capers, artichokes, arugula or eggplant.
Less common than congruent pairing, but most interesting once you do it, is contrast pairing. Here what we are looking for are flavor contrasts that awaken the senses.
For example, foods curated in salt like prosciutto and anchovies, pair quite well with citric cocktails of the sour variety.
Sweet and dry cocktails work very well with aged cheeses like roquefort and stilton, and also, spicy foods like curries.
If you want to pair a cocktail that contains bubbles, like french 75 or the famous chamquila (champagne + Altos tequila), chocolate-based plates or fruit pies would be in order.
This type of pairing happens naturally, meaning, it seeks to join local foods with beverages from the same region. It’s that simple! A classic example is Italian food based on salsa di pomodoro which always tastes good with sangiovese wine – both from the Chianti region.
Of course the best of all regional pairing is a margarita al pastor with some good tacos al pastor. Unbeatable! Find the recipes at the end of the article.
1. A trained palate. The palate should be prepared to understand the flavors, or at least recognize with precision the five flavors to detect: acid, bitter, salty, sweet and umami. One tip to train your taste buds is to be aware of your sense of taste at the moment of trying your cocktails and pair them with the food menu.
2. In-depth knowledge of your clients’ flavor preferences. In North America people like spicy flavors, while in Latin America we tend more towards sweet and acidic. In Europe people prefer bitter flavors above all, and in Asia umami is found in many food and beverages.
So, it’s important to have awareness around your clients’ flavor preferences, depending on where you are, in order to offer drinks with perfect balance.
3. Taste, taste and taste! Work your palate trying all of the menus and cocktails. This will give you the knowledge you need to convey your desired concept to your clients. Be adventuresome with all types of flavor combinations until you find your masterpiece.
4. Have a flavor wheel handy. Did you know that each drink has its corresponding flavor wheel? It’s the most professional way to define and understand flavor combinations.
The flavor wheel is an instrument that is used broadly in the food and beverage industry, offering common vocabulary to name flavor and aromatic notes, in order to communicate with a universal language when discussing flavors and aromas.
These are our flavor wheels—a wider, more specialized cast of tastes that invites you to experiment, and spin-out, behind the bar.
Mexican gastronomy is dominated by picante—with more than 250 native chile species to choose from. You seem them everywhere, like in those delicious salsas that accompany our beloved tacos.
And while it can seem challenging to harmonize picante flavors with cocktails, we have good news: tequila and chile come from the same place! So, we can consider this duo to be an excellent regional pairing, as nature planned!
In Mexico a good dose of fresh lime juice is added to almost every dish. This factor makes almost every Mexican dish work well with citric cocktails.
Another characteristic of Mexican flavors is the mix of sweet with acidic flavors. Fruits like tamarind are a great example of this. This combination has huge potential in cocktails because it is not frequently used around the world. You will surely surprise your clients with the uncommon mix. This sweet and sour touch can also be found in flor de jamaica (hibiscus flower) and in chamoy sauce.
Who can resist the smell of tortillas slowly warming on the comal? This delicate aroma is very Mexican.
In order for tortillas to be elastic and edible, the corn must undergo a process called nixtamalization. Once the grains of corn are cooked, they are submerged in an alkaline solution made of water and quicklime (calcium oxide). They are then strained, rinsed and ground to produce the tortilla and tamal dough.
You may wonder how the flavor of tortillas can be replicated in a cocktail. We have good news! It’s possible thanks to Nixta, a corn liquor that is being widely talked about.
Nixta combines aromas of fresh and toasted corn, wood, dried fruits, spices and the subtle note of vanilla; mixing it with the fruity, slightly citric and sweet notes of a tequila like Altos unleashes your imagination as you create your own Mexican flavors-inspired cocktail.
Check out the photo and recipe for the golden margarita, made with Altos tequila and Nixta liquor:
1.5 oz / 50 ml Altos Plata
1 oz / 30 ml Nixta liquor
.75 oz / 20 ml pinneaple juice
.5 oz / 15 ml lime juice
.25 oz / 5 ml agave nectar
Pinch of salt (optional)
Lime wheel or freeze dried corn or golden edible dust or dusted pinneaple triangle, for garnish
Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Serve in to a tumbler glass over fresh ice. Garnish with lime wheel or corn slice.
If you want to know more about Nixta, you can follow them on Instagram: @nixtalicor
Finally, we leave you with some cocktails made with Altos Tequila Plata and Reposado for some ideas when creating your own Mexican flavors-inspired cocktail:
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and toss. Pour into tumbler rimmed with salt and ground chile mix. Garnish with celery stalk, slice of grapefruit and pickled chiles.
Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Double strain to a tumbler filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a small watermelon triangle and a basil leaf.
Blend all ingredients together with ice until smooth, like a slushie. Garnish with mango slice and chile coins.
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake. Double strain into a chilled coupette glass and garnish with a caramelized chile.
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake. Serve into a rocks glass rimmed with chamoy and Tajin. Garnish with a mango peel.
Shake vigorously in a shaker for 1 minute, strain into rocks glass with ice. Previously rimmed with cilantro and serrano salt. Garnish with pineapple triangle.
Build ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and shake. Serve with crushed ice in a julep cup or clay “jarrito.”
In an old fashioned glass, stir the agave syrup and the bitters. Add Altos Reposado and fill with ice. Stir. Squeeze a grapefruit twist on top.
You can also prepare it using a stirring glass. Dissolve the bitters with the agave syrup and half the measure of tequila. Add ice, stir. Then add the remaining ounce of tequila and stir again. Serve in an old fashioned glass and squeeze a grapefruit twist on top.
Build all ingredients in mason jar glass over ice and stir. Garnish with a lime twist and jasmine flower.