Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) from the north of India is a chicken dish made with butter and spicy tomato sauce served with rice and vegetables.
It may seem daunting to find a match that will work with Butter Chicken because it has both spices and oils/fats from the butter. We will break down what to drink with Butter Chicken.
Sweet and off-dry wines with low tannins and alcohol content are the best wine choices. Alternative options include Champagne, cocktails, whisky, beer, and spirits.
We will break down the options in the following sections and guide you through the traditional wine pairing and some alternative options.
What To Drink With Butter Chicken
We have divided the options into wine and alternatives you can explore, such as Champagne, cocktails, whiskey, beer, and spirits.
Two designations we will use throughout about spiciness are medium and hot (or extra spicy).
We associate wine as the go-to partner for any dish served as the main course. The same is true about Butter Chicken.
You can pair Butter Chicken with either red or white wines–it’s rare we get to choose! It depends on how spicy the recipe is. It would be best if you considered the spiciness of the dish for a good wine pairing.
Here are two helpful tips:
- Medium spiciness pairs nicely with off-dry wines
- Spicy dishes need to be balanced with sweeter wines.
Let’s break these options down with some suggestions.
Medium Spiced Butter Chicken
Medium spiced Butter Chicken will pair with the following white wines: Chardonnay, Bordeaux Blanc, Soave Classico, or a Sauvignon Blanc. Other options include Riesling.
Reds that make excellent pairings include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Lambrusco, and Syrah.
Extra Spicy (Hot) Butter Chicken
Adventurous eaters opting for the hot choice can opt for sweet wines such as Gewürtztraminer, Riesling (this is a good middle-of-the-road way between medium and hot), Pinot Gris, and Chenin Blanc.
Another somewhat overlooked choice would be ice wine, but a quick warning: it attracts a high price tag and is not always available.
Rosé wines also pair particularly well with spicy Butter Chicken but opt for the Spanish Rosados or a fruity Pinot Noir.
The spicier the dish, the sweeter the wines should be—as a general rule of thumb.
Remember that wines with high alcohol content and tannins will clash with the flavors of the food. Keep it to off-dry and sweeter wines that can be served chilled.
Nothing says ‘celebration’ better than a glass of bubbly. Champagne sweetness classifications can confuse people…
Extra-Dry, also referred to as Extra Sec, is actually sweeter than Brut Champagne. It has more added sugar. To be exact, the sugar amount in Extra-Dry Champagne is between 12 and 17 grams per liter.
Extra Dry Champagne is a pleasant accompaniment to mildly spiced Butter Chicken, while you could be adventurous and opt for the Brut.
For hot and heavily spiced versions, you need the sweetness. Here the Dry and Demi-Sec options would be great. Remember, the hotter the dish, the more sweetness you’ll need to balance the spices.
I would avoid the sweetest version, Doux, as mixing strong spices and heavy sugar loads (50 grams of sugar per five-ounce glass!) might upset your tastebuds and stomach.
You might not think cocktails are a good pairing for Butter Chicken, but modern Indian restaurants often have interesting cocktail lists.
Some Indian cookbooks even offer cocktails that accompany the dishes in the book. Some options to try are East India gimlet or Gymkhana restaurant’s House pink gin and tonic. If you are stuck for inspiration, here are some options.
Whiskey can sometimes be tricky to pair with food because of the high alcohol content.
India also produces some fine whisky, and this would be our recommendation–pair Indian dishes with Indian whiskeys.
Opt for a single malt, such as Amrut Distilleries. A word of caution about whisky and Indian food: you will need to dilute the whisky more than usual to avoid overpowering your palette.
Pairing beer with Indian food is almost an automatic choice. Both lagers and beers with more flavor are good options.
Strong hop profiles as found in a pale ale or IPA would work. The bubbles instantly refresh the palate because the alcohol content is not high.
The high alcohol content in spirits does not play well with spicy foods. However, when combined with a mixer, it can become a pleasant experience.
A good choice would be a VS or VSOP cognac with ginger and lots of ice. The citrus tones from the cognac combined with ginger offer a wonderful joining point with the dish’s spices.
Another classic choice is vodka and lemonade. Clear spirits with clear (sweet) mixers complement the spiciness of Butter Chicken. Add a twist of lemon for the acidity and freshness to your drink.
The two primary questions you need to ask beforehand are first, how spicy is the dish, and second, what is the sauce made of? These questions will guide your drink choices.
We have looked at wine pairings for Butter Chicken, and the big takeaway with wine is to avoid wines with high tannins and opt for off-dry and sweeter wines.
Champagne and sparkling wines are other great options if you are out having a celebration. Try to go for off-dry options and avoid the extra dry options such as Extra Brut.
Cocktails are entering the menu as accompanying drinks in many modern Indian restaurants as well–be bold and experiment to find out what you like. Try to go for a single malt whisky–India produces some excellent ones.
Beers like lagers and ales are complimentary choices because of their low alcohol content, and the bubbles provide instant palate refreshment.
Spirits such as cognac and vodka are also good choices because they don’t intrude too much on the spiciness. Quick warning, you cannot drink them neat as it would over-amplify the spices. Mix spirits with sweet or clear mixers to balance the interaction between alcohol and spice.