Elegant and Tasteful Tipples
It’s at this time of year that North Americans are more likely to think of champagne as a beverage option, says Michael Fagan, manager of the LCBO’s knowledge resources group. He adds that on this side of the ocean, many people still view champagne as a drink reserved for special celebrations. “Which is a real shame because it’s a wonderful product on its own and can find its way as a suitable pairing to many occasions -- even just dinner,” he says.
However, sparkling wines are increasing in popularity. While champagne remains the tipple of choice for celebratory occasions, people are also discovering less expensive sparkling wines from around the world, and enjoying them in cocktails such as kir royale, or the traditional champagne cocktail made with a sugar cube soaked in bitters, a dash of brandy, and sparkling wine. Greeting arriving guests with a champagne cocktail can certainly set the mood for a celebration.
The market for liqueurs also continues to grow, Fagan says, and is driven by flavours. In addition to their traditional role at the end of a meal, liqueurs are being used as base ingredients for fancy cocktails and in some of the martinis that remain a popular trend. Replacing the vermouth in a traditional martini with a dash of liqueur offers a wealth of new flavour possibilities.
Herbaceous liqueurs such as Drambuie are popular as mixers and over ice all on their own. Grand Marnier remains a grand dame of the liqueur category, with a range of products based on different ages of brandies, including their 100th anniversary product, and another made with 150-year-old cognac.
The general trend toward exotic flavours is reflected in liqueurs as well. Appletinis are trendy, and melon and lychee liqueurs are widely available, as well as tropical flavours such as mango and banana. One of Grand Marnier’s most recent offerings follows the exotic trend: a cognac called Navan, infused with Madagascar vanilla.
Another excellent way to end a meal is with a hot, spirited drink, especially in winter. These coffee and teas are welcome warmers in cold weather. Some are even flamed, which makes a nice show at the bar and adds some flair to the mixing, Fagan says.
Spanish or Irish coffees are the classics of the genre, blending spirits, coffee and whipped cream. However, the availability of such a wide range of liqueurs makes
experimentation almost irresistible.
“The base ingredients or the base philosophies for the coffees are the same,” Fagan says. “Many restaurants and licensees are creating their own specialty coffees and being quite creative with the range of liqueurs that are available. They’re almost using these liqueurs as you would use spices in the kitchen, to create exotic coffees.”
Tea drinkers need not be left out, either. One traditional tea and liqueur combination is known as blueberry tea: hot tea with a splash of Amaretto and a splash of Grand Marnier.
But Fagan says tea with liqueurs – either side by side, or combined – may be a growing trend. For tea drinkers, he recommends Glayva, a scotch whisky-liqueur, with black tea.
But the vast variety of flavourful, visually attractive liqueurs makes them a great source for inspiration, beyond serving them as shooters or over ice. Experiment and find combinations that suit your clientele and your menu. Fagan offers the following suggestions to get you started:
• Try a sophisticated pairing of sparkling wine and liqueur, beyond the familiar kir royale: Navan and sparkling wine is an excellent choice. About half a teaspoon of the vanilla cognac to a four-ounce glass of wine is about right, Fagan says.
• Festive colours can also add a special note to holiday celebrations. Fagan suggests trying a dry rose champagne, or a sparkling wine cocktail made with Chambord, a wild raspberry liqueur. Adding a tablespoon or two of Chambord to a glass of sparkling wine makes a perfect accompaniment for anything chocolate.
• Chambord can also brighten a brunch table. Fagan recommends pouring a tablespoon of the liqueur over half a pink grapefruit, sprinkling with brown sugar and broiling until the sugar starts to caramelize.
Guests need not be left out of a toast because they don’t drink alcohol. Festive alternatives make everyone feel included in the celebration.
· De-alcoholized wines: genuine wines with the alcohol removed are becoming popular. Product lines include merlot, riesling and sparkling white that make a great champagne alternative. You can also offer your customers zero-alcohol beers.
· Other appealing toasts include high-end juices, such as pomegranate or pear, mixed with soda water. Hot mulled cider offers some of the warmth and spice of mulled wine.
· When serving Irish coffee, one way to include non-drinkers is to offer them the very best: estate teas from small producers, distinctive coffees from specific regions.
· You can also offer hot drinks that echo those made with liqueurs. A sprinkling of vanilla sugar, a few drops of almond or peppermint extract, a grating of nutmeg or a cinnamon stick can bring some of the flavours offered by liqueurs to a cup of coffee, without the alcohol.
· It’s important to offer alternatives to customers who won’t be drinking when dining out.
During the holidays consult your Sysco M.A. for other beverage options for your festive menu.
By Mary Gordon