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Wine and Food Wednesday
The Great Peachfest—A New Libation Takes Center Stage

By Stephen Eliot

There is nothing new or unusual about cooking with spirits, and, from brandy to whiskey to varied eaux de vie, I have over the years called upon their help in enriching recipes and adding an extra spike of flavor when the need arose. Pan sauces, a classic fondue, the braising matrix for a good Boeuf Bourguignon and untold numbers of marinades come to mind, and I cannot imagine our house-favorite, mashed Thanksgiving yams and pecans without a liberal splash of savory Bourbon in the mix. I have never, however, given a great deal of thought to trying to match up spirits as accompanying drinks with various course of the meal. They are something for sipping before or after…not something to drink neat with the meal.

A recent dinner at Oakland’s outstanding Picán Restaurant, however, set me to thinking in ways that I have not done so before. A couple of weeks back, we attended Picán’s late-Summer Peachfest 2011, and among the evening’s featured offerings was a special ala carte menu. Starting out with a Chilled Peach Buttermilk Soup and progressing from Peach Honey Grazed Fried Quail and White Corn Hoecakes to Barbequed Pork Tenderloin with Corn and Smoked Cheddar Grits and finishing with Peach Fried Pie, Picán had crafted a list of recommended Bourbons to taste with each course. Now, as Bay Area fans of fine Bourbon are well aware, the folks at Picán know what they are doing when it comes to Kentucky’s great spirit, and my you-never-know-until-you-try culinary credo was put to the test.

I won’t claim to having been taken with straight Bourbon matched up to the peach pie, the dish was simply too sweet to let the spirits’ subtleties show through, but I confess to being amazed at how good a few selected samples tasted when paired with the rest of the meal. A sweet, rye-infused glass of Four Roses Small Batch was a remarkably rich foil to the Peach Buttermilk Soup, and its richness played beautifully to both the quail and the pork. A second offering, that of High Plains “Most Wanted” Bourbon Mash from Kansas proved that the Corn Whiskey and Peach affinity was no fluke. These were new and unexpected combinations of flavors that had the wonderful effect of the whole being larger than the sum of its parts. But for the obvious limits imposed by our beverages’ higher proofs, I would have tried a good many more combinations before evening’s end.

There is no way that spirits will ever supplant wine as my meal-time companion of choice, but I was reminded as I so often am in the business I have chosen, that anyone who is open-minded and fascinated by complex flavors is well-advised to think outside of the box. You just never know.



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