I've already harped about this, but Jane Black of the Washington Post wrote a wonderful article on cocktail pairing that made me want to climb up on my soapbox again. She deftly deals with both sides—the yeas and nays—of cocktail pairing, but I especially like the fact that she draws us into a more substantial debate about alcohol's effect on the palate. So many assumptions about food and wine pairings, as Black points out with wine and cheese, fall short when put to the test.
I've also raised the flag before that food and wine pairing is culturally biased. Many cultures outside of Europe drink spirits with food, and, although these are not necessarily explicit pairings, they're certainly worth exploring. It's by drawing from so many cultural outposts that we have expanded our gastronomic horizons and added to the very interesting culinary world where we live today.
Not to mention that with wine and food you're looking for a certain combination—generally, similar or complementary structural elements—whereas with cocktails and food you have the ability to match flavor-to-flavor or even well known enhancing flavors. Save the lemon on the side of fish for the cocktail that accompanies it! I've always drawn great inspiration from the website FoodPairing and suggest the would-be cocktail and food pairer take a stroll through the site's suggested combinations. It takes a little practice with a liquid vehicle, but the results can be profound.
I love the debate and think sommeliers and bartenders should put their mouth to tasting first. In the meantime, I'd love to hear some comments. What do you think about cocktail and food pairings? After all, it matters most what you enjoy.