Beer and Food - A civilised choice

By Richard Fox

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Speciality beers, Brewing, Belgium, Brewers, Richard fox

Lesley and husband Bill continue to put the No ID No Sale message across after the success of the No ID No Sale day.
Lesley and husband Bill continue to put the No ID No Sale message across after the success of the No ID No Sale day.
Richard Fox looks at how beer with food stretches back thousands of years and suggests some simple ways of using beer in your kitchen. Ambling...

Richard Fox looks at how beer with food stretches back thousands of years and suggests some simple ways of using beer in your kitchen.

Ambling through your town centre at 11.20pm on a Saturday night, it may strike you as ironic that beer is directly responsible for our transition from a feral bunch of nomads, to civilised home dwellers. In fact,when we look at beer's history and its links with food, the "lager lout" concept is at total odds with everything this noble brew stands for, and is surely just a blip on the landscape of an otherwise unblemished record. Indeed, the growing trend of beer drinking as a cultural and gastronomic pursuit is simply a return to the way it's always been - well, for the last 10,000 years anyway. Take the Pharaohs, for example: 5,000BC, while our living arrangements were more wet weekend at Glastonbury festival than afternoon tea and scones in front of the fire, the ancient Egyptians were swanning around in designer gear living like, er - kings.

While we were foraging around for a handful of grubs and a gob full of dirty water, Ramases and his boys were toasting their good fortune with a pitcher of best bitter and a loaf of freshly baked bread. Fortunately,word finally reached us that we were missing out on the party. Consequently,we quite literally stopped in our tracks, proceeded to build houses, plant barley and brew beer, and before you could say: "mine's a pint",we had become a civilised nation. Beer had crossed continents and had begun to establish itself as a beverage to be dined with.

Of course, you can't keep a good thing quiet for long and before you knew it, every man and his dog, from the Euphrates to the Mississippi and deep into the Brazilian rainforest, had embraced, in some form or another the miracle that was beer. From peasant to president, the amber nectar was transcending social and cultural divisions. As Benjamin Franklin himself said: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy". George Washington even had his own recipe for porter.And it wasn't just over the pond that the great and the good were getting down with a decent pint; Queen Elizabeth I, following in the steps of our Pharaoh friends, regularly enjoyed her breakfast with it. Not only that, but the strength she drank would have floored a rugby team.

The habits of the ancient civilisations and their ancestors showed us that beer was not only a food-friendly beverage, but also a drink to be revered and respected. Clearly then, beer as an accompaniment to food isn't some new-fangled marketing ruse by the brewers to break wine's monopoly in this area. In fact, if we look at the geography of the grape and the grain, it actually makes far more gastronomic sense to be drinking beer most of the time. Taking on board the fact that a nation's cuisine evolves alongside a national drink - based on history, custom and availability of raw ingredients, it's actually the beer that should have the monopoly in the food stakes.

Vines yielding grapes good enough to produce decent wine are limited in the main to certain lands lying within the latitudes 30 and 50 degrees north and south of the equator. That leaves huges swathes of land around the globe, including, of course, the UK, where the grain rather than the grape has always held pre-eminence. So it is that the spicy foods of India, Thailand and Malaysia are generally washed down with crisp, golden, pilsner-style lagers. What else could cleanse, refresh and stimulate the taste buds all at the same time? When it comes to the raw fish based diet of Japan, the likes of salmon and tuna (cooked or otherwise), are perfectly complemented by dry beers such as Kirin and Sapporo, which cut through the natural oiliness of the fish like a Samurai sword through butter. And let's not forget that, by definition of the brewing process, sake is beer.

Moving closer to home, the meaty stews, casseroles, pork and game which characterise the cooking of countries such as Belgium and Britain go down great guns with our fine hoppy ales and the artisan trappist and abbey beers of Belgium. Unfortunately, I don't have every page of this magazine available to me to be specific about beer and food matches, or to wax lyrical about the joys of a rich chocolate dessert accompanied by a fruity, finely-balanced framboise or kriek from the Lambic region of Belgium. But I can tell you it's not brain surgery.

Most flavour matches are a simple process of matching like with like - comparing flavours; creating juxtaposed flavours - contrasting, or a combination of the two. The best way is to conduct tasting sessions (a great staff motivator) and to knock up some beer blackboards and tasting notes, just as you would with wine. Don't be shy, discovery is great fun and it really creates a talking point for customers.

Perfect partners​ Chef Paul Rankin has come up with the following beer and food matches:

Beer to Dine For​ - with seafood bruschetta made with Irish soda bread and spring onion butter Old Speckled Hen​ - to accompany warm game tart, with roast winter vegetables and green peppercorns Abbot ale​ - with warm potato and goats' cheese flans Strong Suffolk​ - to accompany seared beef salad with cashel blue cheese dressing

What the brewers say

Vikki Balmer, category controller at Interbrew UK"Consumers will often stop after one bottle of wine rather than order another, either because they are pressed for time or because they want to limit the number of alcohol units consumed. In contrast, beer's variety of formats means it can be consumed in more acceptable volumes and it doesn't have the 'one-bottle threshold' - so it's perfect for upselling."

Simon Treanor, director of sales, on-trade at Holsten UK Ltd"There is huge growth in those brands leveraging the beer with food association, like Duckstein. Consumers have a thirst for knowledge on taste, age, origin and brewing heritage, making the whole speciality beer category one in which they are keen to experiment. Speciality beers offer a price premium over mainstream PPLs and licensees should offer a varied range that encourages the consumer to explore and discover these unique and highly-lucrative beers."

Rooney Anand, managing director of Greene King"We want to fire people with enthusiasm - mostly women - who don't think of themselves as beer drinkers, by getting them to realise that beer can be the ideal accompaniment to food. We also want to throw a challenge to beer drinkers - mostly men - who automatically change to wine when they sit down to eat. They should consider sticking with ale, by taking advantage of the many, and varied choices."

Ideas for maximising beer and food sales

Ensure you prominently display the availability of speciality beers to stimulate purchase as an alternative to wine.

Supply a beer list - as well as a wine list - containing brand descriptors in terms of taste, heritage, provenance and food compatibility suggestions.

Recommend beers alongside food dishes in the menu as some outlets do with wine.

Use chalkboards to promote the different speciality beers. Around three to four brands are required to provide choice.

Introduce a speciality brand to ring the changes and stimulate interest.

Build back-bar displays using bottles for maximum impact and always use branded glasses to heighten the sense of occasion and premium nature of the beers.

Offer speciality beers in small sampling glasses to introduce the concept of beer with food as an alternative to wine.

Barstaff should have a good understanding of speciality beers and be able to talk knowledgeably about the flavour profile, heritage and origin.

Consider introducing a staff incentive to encourage barstaff to sell more speciality beers and encourage healthy competition among employees.

Source:​ Holsten UK

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