Not just with curry

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Related tags: Food, Beer, Indian cuisine, Cobra beer

There was a time when matching lager with food was considered to be a pointless exercise. Noli Dinkovski discovers how this view is changing Last...

There was a time when matching lager with food was considered to be a pointless exercise. Noli Dinkovski discovers how this view is changing

Last month the Bombay Brasserie, a classy Indian restaurant situated in Kensington, west London, played host to a curry night with a difference. Courtesy of the Beer Academy and Coors, guests were treated to a beer and food matching evening where the likes of Belgium's Palm Speciale ale complemented the lamb rogan josh, while Grolsch helped wash down the chicken biryani.

In all, nine varieties of food were matched to 12 samples of lagers, ales and stouts, each chosen to cover a broad range of colours, alcohol levels, textures and styles.

Beer Academy co-founder Rupert Ponsonby believes the tasting showed there is a "real opportunity" to match food and beer, an idea he hopes pubs will champion as the smoking ban forces them to reappraise their food offer. At the same time, the ban will also set a new challenge to brewers who will have to find ways to make lager relevant to consumers who may no longer just be going out for a few pints.

Helped along by the growth of speciality beers, more people are taking notice of the varieties of lager that can lay claim to suiting different foods. This interest could take on a whole new level of meaning as pubs and bars become keen to extend their food offering.

But can lagers cut the mustard and regain ground that has already been lost to wine?

Growing acceptance

InBev UK managing director of commercial and field operations Steve Kitching says there has been a great deal of promotion from suppliers, plus initiatives from industry bodies, explaining the benefits of lager and

food matching.

"This has helped retailers to develop an understanding of which beers to recommend with food and to appreciate that they can boost business by creating a beer menu, or by encouraging staff to recommend a beer to go with a particular dish," he says.

"Pub-goers find it more acceptable now to have a beer with a meal instead of a glass of wine, particularly as branded glassware has become the norm," adds Kitching. "For example, Stella Artois has introduced designs that are more suitable for the dinner table, such as the La Famille Artois chalice glass."

Increasing sophistication

Pierhead Purchasing director of imported beers Michael Cook believes the beer-with-food movement is becoming increasingly sophisticated in the on-trade as more chefs start having beer lists to match their food offer. "There are now some fantastic speciality lagers available, which are highly versatile, distinctive and full of flavour - perfect for food matching," says Cook.

"It also makes sense to match international cuisine with speciality-imported lagers from that region. Our Alhambra Reserva 1925 from Spain, for example, makes the perfect match for tapas."

But that doesn't mean to say that mainstream brands can't work well with food. Budweiser has been marketed as the lager of choice with burgers for a long time, while S&NUK has been suggesting ways to marry Kronenbourg with food and running a Foster's barbecue promotion via its Big Barbie Club.

"Foster's has become synonymous with the barbecue season," says S&NUK head of customer marketing for regional sales Shaun Heyes. "With the smoking ban on its way

licensees need to be thinking about how to maximise their outdoor space - and offering barbecue food in the beer garden with a pint of Foster's Super Chilled is a superb way

to do this."

As well as the mainstream draught beers, brewers stress that imported beers could also play a role.

"In my view, the greatest attribute of a British pub is a quality draught pint of beer. Consequently, choice will always be limited to the range of brands a retailer can sensibly stock without compromising quality and yields," says Coors customer marketing director David Wigham. "With up to nine months' shelf-life on bottled beers, there is much more scope for retailers to carry a wide range of

bottled beers."

Connecting with drinkers

Wigham says Coors' own Kasteel Cru lager, brewed using Champagne yeast, is finding its way into a number of on-trade outlets that serve food. He adds: "The key is engaging consumers in dialogue about the attributes of individual lagers. While a beer list, rather than just a wine list, would be a good way to communicate to drinkers in outlets, it need not be so formal. We've seen cask-ale menus on chalkboards catch the eye and imagination."

Where once the idea of pitching lagers with foods may have seemed unlikely, it is now beginning to turn heads.

Even Global Brands beer brands director John Harley has started to see its worth. "A couple of years ago I wasn't convinced, but I've since changed my mind.

"There are more pubs and bars with food ranges than ever before and now it's feasible. A word of caution though: you can't just throw food and drink together and hope they match, outlets must do their homework first."

Cobra Beer strikes out

With the increased emphasis on pubs' post-smoking-ban food offering, the lager sector must fight its corner if it is to avoid losing volume in the face of fierce competition, most notably from wine.

Cobra beer marketing manager Zoe Smith feels her brand has a head-start, given its success in Indian restaurants. "We are confident that people are already well aware that Cobra is a lager that pairs well with food. The challenge for us is to communicate that Cobra is not just a great match to Indian food but also to a range of different cuisines."

Smith adds: "Its refreshing taste makes it the perfect foil for spicier foods, as well as lots of white meat and fish dishes. It's also less gassy than most lagers. Our King Cobra is served in large, champagne-style bottles, making it a good wine alternative."

All business development executives, when joining Cobra Beer, attend the Beer Academy food and beer matching training. Smith says: "They are able to speak informatively to bar managers and staff about how our lagers can be suited to different foods.

"This has helped our success in outlets renowned for their food offering, such as the

Living Room."

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