How to Pair Sushi and Cocktails

Everybody knows to order sake with sushi, but what about craft cocktails?

The mixology movement is such that bartenders nearly everywhere now know how to whip up cocktails to a culinary degree. This includes at upscale Japanese restaurants like Kashi in Stamford, CT. So what exactly should guests order off the cocktail menu to maximize the flavors of their sushi and other Japanese dishes? For answers, we recently visited Kashi and spoke with co-owner Kenny Lee.

For most sushi and sashimi, Lee recommends light cocktails like You are So Cukey, which contains Hendrick’s Gin, Chambord, sparkling peach sake and fresh lemon juice, topped with mint and cucumber.

Light, fresh drinks are what he recommends for most sushi, playing into the flavors of the raw or cooked fish. Lee points to a Kashi cocktail called You Are So Cukey as a good example of the ideal pairing. The drink consists of Hendrick’s Gin, Chambord, sparkling peach sake and fresh lemon juice, topped with mint and cucumber.

“The drink is light sparking sake with gin, which will develop the freshness of different fishes,” Lee says. “Any sushi or sashimi pairs well with the You are So Cukey.”

In general, Lee points towards craft cocktails made with sake or other light wines/spirits as safe picks to pair with sushi. “Any good cocktails mixed with sake, white wine, sparking wine or flavored vodka are a good paring with sushi and sashimi in Japanese restaurants,” he says.

Some rolls are heavier, like signature rolls packed and/or piled high with fish and fruit. The Deep Blue Sea roll at Kashi is blue crab, avocado and mango, topped with seared spicy tuna spicy eel sauce. Not exactly a light dish.

For heavier selections like Deep Blue Sea, Lee recommends a drink the likes of Rainbow Sky. The cocktail contains Cruzan Banana Rum, Bols Strawberry Liqueur, Bols Natural Yoghurt Liqueur and fresh lemon juice.

“The fruit-flavored drink will make these rolls more tasty,” Lee says.

Japanese cuisine is much more than sushi, of course, and Lee has pairing recommendations for the broader menu options.

For dishes that are heavier, Lee steers guests towards cocktails like Honey’s Passion, made with vodka, elderflower liqueur, passion fruit puree, honey syrup, and prosecco poured on top.

At Kashi they serve up both crispy Chilean sea bass and grilled fresh octopus. Either of these Lee would match up with the restaurant’s Lolita Fashion. The cocktail is Jim Beam bourbon and Jumai sake, with orange and cherry. This makes for a “light, small and not too heavy” drink, perfect alongside the seafood fare.

For dishes that are heavier, like Kashi’s petite filet mignon, Lee steers guests towards cocktails like Honey’s Passion. This combines vodka, elderflower liqueur, passion fruit puree, honey syrup, and prosecco poured on top.

“The mix of vodka and champagne with the passion-fruit flavor will bring rich flavors from the meat,” Lee says.

So there you have it. Like pairing food with wine, when matching cocktails and sushi, the key is light with light, and power with power.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece 3 Emerging American Whiskies.

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