Favourite festive pairings: the mince pie myth.

Posted by Debbie Parker on the 18th December, 2018
The drink you choose can actually make your mince pie taste better – I have tested a number of drinks to find out what matches and even enhances your Christmas mince pie experience.

At this time of year, we all want to serve the food and drinks that people love, and that go best together.  But do we really know what it is that makes the best flavour combinations?

Walnut surveyed over 2000 UK consumers to find out what drink they thought went best with mince pies, and then asked our sensory expert, Dr Debbie Parker, to sample some of Britain’s best loved drinks alongside a mince pie to understand what Santa Claus would REALLY love to find waiting at the bottom of the chimney this year.

The nation clearly have a best loved drink with a mince pie, 1 in 4 mince pie eaters agree firmly on this… but read on to know from Debbie if they are making the best choice…

“When pairing drinks with food, there are many factors to consider to help to make a more informed choice. In general, delicate flavoured drinks are best suited to lighter dishes, whilst more robust, fuller bodied and full flavoured drinks can stand their own against hearty, rich foods. So, we need to consider both the attributes of the drinks and the mince pie to find an ideal match. With this in mind, I selected a range of popular potential drinks to see how they match, and even enhance the eating experience of your Christmas mince pie.

“There are some common approaches to food & drink pairings, referred to as the three ‘C’s; one is to pair complementing flavours, such as teaming a spicy or fruity drink with the spicy & fruity filling of a mince pie. Another is to contrast flavours, pairing sour drinks with sweet foods; finally, is the slight acidity or bitterness of drinks cutting through the fattiness & doughy character of the pastry.

“The mince pie flavour itself is sweet & fruity, with raisins & sultana dried fruit flavours, spicy cinnamon, ginger & zesty orange & jammy plum notes; the pastry gives doughy & cereal flavours and leaves a thick & coating mouthfeel; the combination of pie & filling on eating gives a sweet fruity, syrupy and drying & doughy finish.

So, here are the top 3 drinks I recommend.

In third place, Hot Chocolate:
The sweet, rich creamy, chocolate flavour of the Hot Chocolate dominates the flavour of the mince pie, with just a little syrupy & pastry note remaining. Not a matching combination but not unpleasant and a good night time combo if you like hot chocolate!

Score: 6/10

In second place, Port: 
The port is oaky, plummy fruits, vanilla, molasses, sweet, spicy, rounded alcohol & sweet finish. But when eating the mince pie, the flavours reduce slightly with oak, plums, vanilla, sweet & spicy notes still present. Alcohol noticeable but not harsh & pleasantly warming. Flavours of mince pie also remaining only slightly lower, so fruit & sweetness & cereal notes retained; much better flavour match & complementary with flavours melding together, but alcohol still a bit heavy on the finish.

Score: 8/10

And the winner: Beer – Strong (Christmas) Ale. 
The drink offers dark treacle, toffee with roasted and chocolate malt notes; orange marmalade, raisin & sultana fruitcake and sweet spicy notes leading to a balanced bitter, sweet and pleasantly dry finish.
When combined with the mince pie, the treacle, malty, orange, fruitcake & spicy notes remain but the bitterness and drying notes are reduced, and the beer actually tastes sweeter. The fruity, spicy and sweet flavours of the pie also remain but the doughy, drying, thick, mouthcoating quality of the pastry is cut through by the bitterness and carbonation of the beer, giving a cleansing feel and leaving the mouth refreshed ready for another bite of pie and sip of ale! Excellent match with complementing flavours and enhancing the experience and giving refreshing quality.

Score: 10/10

But what about the drinks we fondly remember putting out for Santa Claus with such anticipation on Christmas Eve?

The traditional choice: Sherry.
The mince pie reduces the fruity/woody notes in the sherry, while the sweet notes are diminished yet the bitter taste is increased, and a strong alcohol aftertaste becomes evident.  The flavour of the mince pie is wiped out by sherry & only drying & pastry (cereal) flavour remains.

Score: 4/10

And what about Mulled Wine?
Mulled Wine has notes of cinnamon, spice, soft berry fruits, moderate alcohol, sweet, ginger, a drying finish & moderate acidity. Spicy & drying linger. However, the mince pie wipes out the spice in mulled wine leaving it tasting like a weak red wine with no spices. Fruity notes in pie disappear but doughy notes remain with thick mouthcoating finish.

Score: 4/10

Even less well suited are brandy (2/10), whisky (2/10), and gin & tonic (3/10). Even the spiced notes in Spiced rum & cola failed to bring out the fruit notes of the mince pie, with the flavours simply neutralising each other so that only sweetness remains (5/10).

So, there you have it, the expert has spoken. But was our sample of UK consumers right? Sadly not. Of the drinks Debbie tried, mulled wine was the top choice for the nation, followed by hot chocolate. However, very few people would even think of ale as a pairing, with just 3% of people naming it as a possible accompaniment. Perhaps it’s time for us all to embrace a new combination this festive period! Whatever you try, be sure to send your findings to Debbie!


Debbie is a Sensory Scientist with an Honours’ Degree in Biochemistry, a Post Graduate Certificate in Sensory Science and a Doctorate in Brewing Science. She leads Sensory panels in the assessment of all food, beverage and non-food projects to use sensory science to provide a complete understanding of brands. Debbie is also a certified trainer, a regular lecturer and presenter and one of the few women Beer Sommeliers. Using these skills, Debbie judges regularly at the Quality Awards and the Great British Beer Festival, and has led tutored tastings at the British Embassy in Stockholm and at the European Parliament. She has comparéd beer and food matching evening for Michelle Roux Jnr., offered her expertise on flavours on TV’s Food Unwrapped programme and given interviews for BBC Radio 4 Food Programme and the World Service. It is safe to say that Debbie knows her flavours!

Meet the Author: Debbie Parker
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