The Alcoholic Drinks That Work Best with Fish

Which drinks work best with fish? Wine—white or red? Beer—light or dark? Cocktails—sweet or sour? The right pairing can mean the difference between a great meal and a bad taste in your mouth. Don’t worry: we’ll help you sort through which drinks pair best with fish.

White Wine vs Red Wine

You may have heard the rule of thumb to pair white wine with fish and save the red wine for heavier dishes like steak and lamb. But what’s behind it? Isn’t the best wine the one that you enjoy the most?


It’s all about the tannins. These bitter compounds give red wine much of its unique flavor. Tannins leave a strong taste in your mouth that can interact with the oils in fish, imparting bitterness and even a metallic flavor. To get the most out of your fish, opt for the clean, refreshing pairing of white wine.

Spirits and Beer

Fried fish and shellfish work really well with a light beer or ale. You want something clean and crisp to wash down all of that protein and fat. Beer is perfect because it quenches your thirst and leaves you feeling refreshed. 


With spirits, it’s really up to your preference. We’ve had great experiences with these flavor combinations: 


Rum: A nice golden or dark rum perfectly complements a juicy, buttery meal of crabs or lobster. Sample the life of a pirate as you dig around for succulent morsels of meat and wash it down with a fruity, spicy rum. Yo ho ho!


Vodka: A good vodka should be smooth and mild. You won’t notice many flavor notes apart from the alcohol, which makes it a perfect complement for the clean flavors of grilled fish. 


Tequila: Citrus, salt, tequila, and oysters—it’s the perfect combination! Keep a bottle on hand for fish taco night to complement the spicy, acidic flavors. 


Gin: Smoked fish is practically begging for a shot of gin. Take a sip of gin when your mouth is filled with those smoky, earthy flavors. As the floral complexity of the spirit meets the charred fish, you’ll see why this is a classic pairing.


Whiskey: If you’re keeping things simple with a premium fillet of salmon or trout, then reach for the whiskey. The fish will provide body while the whiskey offers depth to liven things up.

cocktails

Cocktails go great with fish. Whether you’re eating dried cod, fried shrimp, or succulent salmon, cocktails provide the sweetness, spice, and balance that you need. Part of the fun is making your own mixes and exploring new flavor combinations. But if you’re looking for some classics that go with all types of fish, we have you covered.


Moscow Mule: Combine 1 part vodka with 3 parts ginger beer and ¼ part lime juice for a simple and strong drink with a fiery kick. It’ll clean your palate between mouthfuls of fatty or dried fish.


Bloody Mary: The Bloody Mary makes a great complement to fish because it actually has some fish in it: it’s made using a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, which contains fermented anchovies. Combine 6 parts Clamato tomato juice with 3 parts vodka, 1 part lemon juice, and a dash of Worcestershire Sauce (or more if you like it extra spicy). To finish, add a little salt and pepper and a fresh stalk of celery. It’s a spicy and full-bodied drink that goes great with shrimp, clams, and other shellfish, although it might leave you feeling a little queasy if you’re eating raw oysters.


Frozen Daiquiri: A super-chilled and refreshing way to clean your palate, a frozen Daiquiri works wonders with fried fish and oysters. Just combine crushed ice with 2 parts white rum, 1 part lime juice, and 1/2 part sugar syrup.


Gin and Tonic: The floral fragrances and fruity flavors of a G&T lend complexity to baked and grilled fish, especially when served with lemon, lime, herbs, and even chili. Just mix tonic water and gin to taste. (Many recipes use 1 part gin and 3 parts tonic, but it’s up to you!)

Summary: Drinks that Go With Fish

Forget about the “rules” for a second. White wine is “better” with fish than red in the same way that olive oil works better on a Greek salad than sunflower oil, butter is better for sandwiches than margarine, and whole eggs taste better in omelets than egg whites. But some people prefer sunflower oil on their salad and they like a little margarine on their bread.


If you only drink red wine, then drink it. If you prefer a heavy White Russian over a spicy Moscow Mule then make that instead. It all comes down to preference. Use our recommendations as a starting point, and explore fish and alcohol combinations of your own. That’s half the fun! The search for the perfect pairing is never over.

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