Beer and food matching: Hop to it

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How can you go about returning beer to its rightful place at the dinner table?In the last four years or so, I've been requested to attend more beer...

How can you go about returning beer to its rightful place at the dinner table?

In the last four years or so, I've been requested to attend more beer and food matching dinners than I've had hot ones.

For fear of appearing like a Charlie Big Potatoes, I must add that these kind invitations were neither on account of my witty repartee nor impeccable table manners but rather a crafty plan, devised by brewers, to make beer stylish, sophisticated and, though they're loathed to admit it, more like wine.

Returning beer to its rightful place at the head of the dinner table has been the cause celebre among brewers for quite some time now. In fact, no other issue gets beer's marketing folk more excited than the alleged multi-layered synergies between the hop and haute cuisine.

No longer able to rely on the quaffing capabilities of sweaty-arsed workers following the decline of Britain's heavy industries, beer has been forced to shed its overalls and slip into something a bit more suitable for dinner.

While the vast majority of brewers have made the effort there are those that scrub up better than others. Tasting notes on the cans of a well-known mass-produced mainstream lager, for example, stretches the beer and food concept too far unless one is looking for something to savour with a kebab or late-night knuckle sandwich.

From the ridiculous we move to the sublime where beer and food really works. A perfectly credible combination such as a rich, creamy porter paired with caramelised scallops, crispy seaweed and pureed carrot would sway even the most fervent detractor.


Winning over sceptics has as much to do with image and presentation as it does with flavour. Interbrew (now InBev), for example, has taken inspiration from its Belgian homeland, where the grain, not the grape, pours supreme in top-end restaurants, and launched its leading brands in larger table-friendly bottles accompanied by smaller branded and stemmed glasses. After all, the pint glass is not designed for the dining table.

The company has also been running a series of gourmet evenings with bars, featuring beer and food consultant and columnist, Richard Fox. He provides cooking demonstrations and talks about beer and food matching as well as cook-offs and Ready Steady Cook-style workshops for staff and consumers.

Greene King, meanwhile, has taken a step further than other regional brewers with the high-profile introduction of a beer specifically designed for the dinner table.

Called "Beer to Dine For", it's a gently sparkling, golden ale available in both 330ml and 750ml bottles and accompanied by dainty branded glassware.

Greene King head brewer John Bexon claims the beer is a perfect accompaniment to food: "It has sour notes and this generates saliva, which is obviously perfect for food. It has got body and character but is not too bitter so it will appeal across the board."

There are few regional or national brewers who haven't embarked on a similar beer and food initiative.

Wolverhampton & Dudley, Coors, Adnams, Fuller's and Shepherd Neame have all been waxing lyrical about the kinship between food and beer, real ale especially, and thankfully the message seems to be getting through.


A major breakthrough was made recently when Thierry Tomasin, general manager of the Michelin-star Aubergine Restaurant in Chelsea, gave his blessing to the beer and food coupling.

Nine beers, ranging from British classics such as Worthington White Shield and John Willy Lees Harvest Ale, to more exotic brews such as Gulpener's Dutch wheat beer, Korenwolf; New York Brooklyn Brewery's Chocolate Stout and Belgium's dark red cherry beer, Liefmans Kriek now rub shoulders on the drinks list with more than 420 wines ranging from £20 to £5,300 (Chateau Pètrus 1982) a bottle.

Tomasin said: "As a Frenchman and a former sommelier, I am passionate about wine; but I have become converted to the idea that I would be failing my customers' if I didn't offer them a well thought-out selection of beers as well.

"I looked in particular to find beers which would be good partners for our starters, cheeses and puddings. The response has been excellent and we are enjoying the opportunity to offer our customers something which they are not expecting and which they are not often receiving in other restaurants."

Dr Paul Hegarty of Coors Brewers' Beer Naturally campaign said: "These inspired new beer lists show that both gastronomically and commercially, it is important for Britain's restaurants to understand the potential of beer.

"There are beer styles now available in Britain to complement even the most demanding food, including dishes like artichokes, chocolate or sushi, which are the historic enemies of wine. The age of beer lists on every good menu is fast approaching."

Beer and food matching is by no means a new idea in the United States, where it is very much caught up in the fast-moving Slow Food trend. Garrett Oliver is America's leading proponent of the grain's kinship with grub, a role he combines with his head brewer position at the Brooklyn Brewery in New York.

His book, The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, is regarded as the last word on the subject.

"Wine's a fabulous drink but it doesn't go well with everything," he said. "Beer has a set of flavours that are generally wider than the range of flavours found in wine."


The barrier for beer and food, as many critics in the trade point out, is not one of flavour but one of finance. Beers may bring some new tastes to the table, but no amount of marking-up will make them as profitable as wine.

Garrett's response is that bars and restaurants should be looking to earn their money by simply making their customers happy and enthused.

"Beer is an add-on and not a replacement to wine, It simply gives the customer something completely different. Instead of having a glass of Sauterne with cheese, offer an IPA - all of a sudden you've opened up the eyes of the customer and forged a different kind of relationship with them, you've given something different.

"It's those bars and restaurants who are more confident that will experiment with beer and food. It takes an assured bar owner or chef to do it but that's what the top outlets are about.

"Wine rarely surprises people but beer can delight and astonish in equal measure."

There are those, however, for whom all this talk of matching beer and food is a bit hard to swallow. When Flavour spoke to Alastair Hook of the Meantime Brewery recently, he had his doubts.

"This is people putting round pegs in square holes," he said. "Brewers with big advertising budgets have looked at the wine industry and the way it's marketed itself and they've thought 'we've got to do beer with food'."

"But beer bloats you and is designed to satiate and not be drunk as an accompaniment to a big meal. There's a noble side to the beer and food idea, but it's idealist."

The experts match beer

Flavour got in touch with its resident beer boffins and asked them to suggest some beer accompaniments to the following meal:

  • Terrine & Toast
  • Sausage and Mash
  • Chicken Caesar Salad
  • Thai Green Curry
  • Chocolate Torte

CT: ​Christian Townsley of the North Bar in Leeds, DW: ​Daniel Warner of The Hospital, London JP: ​Jeff Pickthall of Microbar, South London.

Terrine on Toast

CT: ​What better to accompany canapes then a beer of finesse, a fruity, champagne-like ale with a burst of raspberries: Liefman's Frambozen, bottled.JP: ​A German bock beer or malty Scottish ale. The residual sweetness would complement any mustards or pickles.

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