When pairing beer and food, the goal is to select beers that enhance the flavors in the food or to select dishes that either augment the flavor in the beer or make it more accessible. The characteristics in beer and food pairings that make this possible are: complement, contrast and cut.
A complementary pairing means that the beer and the dish share a similar flavor profile, in other words, they both share the same distinct characteristics. When the beer is paired with the food it draws out those similar flavors and bring them to the forefront. A good example of this is pairing wheat beers with salads. The light citrus and pepper flavors of wheat beers grab onto the citrus and pepper notes found in many dressings to enhance them while not overpowering the lightness of the salad.
Contrast occurs in a pairing when the beer and the dish have two apparently opposite flavor profiles but when placed together they expose flavors that were not as evident when either is sampled alone. A perfect example is a rich, sweet dessert -- such as the pear tarte tartin cheesecake we served with an American IPA at our second beer dinner. When the bitterness of the IPA met the sweetness of the cheesecake, the strong flavors of the two disappeared and the roasted malt in the beer along with the fruit and citrus notes in the dessert became more evident. Most dessert pairings will be contrasting in nature.
The trait that sets beer apart from wine when planning a meal is its ability to cut through a dish due to the hops and the presence of carbonation in beer. The best example of this is pairing a fatty cheese like a triple crème with a Belgian Tripel. The carbonation in the beer scrubs away the cheese from the palate and allows you to actually taste the complementary or contrasting flavors in the beer.
A final word of advice is to match strengths in your beer and food. You don’t want to serve a light crisp beer, like a pilsner, with a hearty dish, like a beef stew. The rich stew would overpower the beer and leave it tasting thin and lifeless.
-Its a Beer Dinner – Dave
posted while drinking Terrapin's Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout