Some epicurean purists maintain that if you're not a wine drinker, mineral water is the only fitting beverage for a gourmet meal, and the only question on the matter is whether to drink it sparkling or still. Anything else, the theory goes, would occlude the palate and diminish one's appreciation of the cuisine.
That's a silly rule. A well-chosen flavored beverage can definitely enhance the enjoyment of a great meal.
Just take your cue from the style of cuisine or the seasonings in the dish and pick a drink with complementary flavors. Definitely steer clear of cloying high-fructose corn syrup; look instead for natural sweeteners like cane sugar or agave, and flavorings like pure fruit juices, herbs and spices. Here are some great food-friendly sips to try, along with suggested gourmet pairings:
DRY Soda Co. Lemongrass (♦♦♦♦♦) With just a hint of sweetness, a soft effervescence, a true, subtle lemongrass flavor, and an almost palate-cleansing quality, this is perhaps the food-friendliest - and most refreshing of the bunch. With their spare, modern design, the glass bottles are table-worthy, too. Even before it had retail distribution, DRY was served at some very select restaurants, including The French Laundry and Seattle's Crush. So if flavors like Juniper, Cucumber, Rhubarb, Kumquat, Lavender, and Vanilla Bean don't have you convinced, how about endorsements from Jason Wilson and Thomas Keller?
Suggested Pairings: Thai cuisine, fish and shellfish, sushi, roasted or grilled meats, game birds, goat cheese, fruit.
Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Broiled Peaches
Lobster and Avocado Salad
Thai Curried Chicken with Peaches
Fizzy Lizzy Costa Rican Pineapple (♦♦♦♦½ ) has a soft head and an almost creamy mouthfeel.
Tiny bubbles lend a light fizz, and the pineapple flavor is sweet and fresh. Bright and fruity, this is a nice counterpart to bold flavors and spice. Sofi Award-winning Fizzy Lizzy uses only triple-filtered carbonated water, juice, and a bit of Vitamin C in specific proportions (the pineapple is 63% juice, 37% water), so you get clean, true, food-friendly flavors. Find Fizzy Lizzy at Whole Foods, natural and gourmet stores, or buy online at GiftsWish.com.
Suggested Pairings: Jerk Chicken, grilled flank steak, South American, Southwestern, Mexican and Caribbean cuisines, coconut, fruit.
Tequila Marinated Mahi Mahi with Avocado-Tomatillo Sauce and Grilled Tomatoes
Chile-Seared Salmon with Sweet Pear Pineapple Salsa
Virgil's Root Beer (♦♦♦♦ ½ ) Developed from vintage recipes, this award-winning microbrewed root beer is crafted with herbs and spices sourced from around the world. Vanilla, anise, cinnamon, birch, clove, and wintergreen notes lend complexity to the creamy brew; it's also these culinary flavors that make Virgil's such an intriguing match with food.
Find Virgil's at specialty and natural food stores, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods, or buy direct. O-U kosher, Gluten-free.
Suggested Pairings: Cheese, roasted and cured meats, barbecue, roasted root vegetables, egg dishes, mushrooms, bitter greens, chocolate.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo
Chocolate Stout Cake
Reed's Extra Ginger Brew (♦♦♦♦) As ginger beers go, Reed's is a little unusual - there's plenty of warm ginger bite, but the flavor isn't single note. Instead, pineapple, honey, lemon, and lime lend dimension to the brew. Classicists looking for a pure ginger taste may find Reed's off-putting, but others will appreciate the pairing versatility those flavors lend to the sparkling beverage. Find Reed's at Whole Food's, Trader Joe's, at gourmet and natural foods shops, or buy online. O-U kosher, gluten-free.
Suggested Pairings: Caribbean cuisine, Southeast Asian cuisine, jerk-seasoned meats, seafood, citrus.
Grilled Chicken Tacos al Carbón with Fresh Orange Salsita
Citrus-Rubbed Roast Goose with Baked Gingery Apples in Calvados
Grilled Corn and Crab Salad with Raspberries
Izze Pomegranate (♦♦♦½) This ruby red quaff is tart and slightly astringent, with a light pomegranate aroma. Flavor-wise, cranberry notes dominate (Izze's beverages are made with a mix of juices), which might disappoint pomegranate aficionados. Still, this works nicely with a range of foods - just stick to the bottled version, as some tasters report that the canned, fortified soda has a tinny off-taste. Available at Whole Foods, specialty and natural food stores, and online at vitacost.com.
Cost: $4.99 /4-pack.
Suggested Pairings: Persian or Moroccan cuisine, paella, roasted meats, root vegetables, goat cheese, avocado, salads.
Persian Chicken with Pomegranates, Pine Nuts, & Grapefruit Yogurt
Butternut Squash and Pear Ravioli with Rosemary Sauce
Steaz Root Beer (♦♦♦) is a green tea-based soda. It's slightly oversweet, and the root beer flavor isn't very nuanced, but the subtle green tea undercurrent is interesting, and the light carbonation is pleasant. Vegans and pregnant women take note: Steaz is fortified with lots of Vitamin B12 (50 mcg, or 833% DV, to be exact), and 400 mcg of Folic Acid. Soda may not be the most wholesome way to get those nutrients, but it's a bonus. Available at Whole Foods, specialty and natural food stores, and online at vitacost.com.
O-U kosher, USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, Certified Vegan.
Suggested Pairings: Potato dishes, beans, dried fruit, cured meats, sandwiches.
Potato Gratin Dauphinoise
Grilled Pork, Fig, and Hazelnut Salad
Fresh Baked Pretzels
NEXT: More interesting soda choices...
Not Yet Rated:
There are several other exciting sodas on the market. Here are a few interesting options to check out:
GuS: aka "Grown-up Soda" - think lightly-sweetened Meyer lemon, grapefruit, or cranberry lime.
Vignette Wine Country Soda: Sparkling grape sodas made with wine varietals.
Fever Tree: Tonics, lemon drinks, and ginger ales.
Q tonic: Agave-sweetened tonic water.
Have you tasted these, or other specialty sodas? Share your thoughts, and food pairing tips.