Menu Matching focus: Pairing off the pub staples

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Forget politics, religion and sport ­ the question that really gets the debate going across the bar is 'what¹s the best crisp flavour?'.And once...

Forget politics, religion and sport ­ the question that really gets the debate going across the bar is 'what¹s the best crisp flavour?'.

And once you throw in the effect on customers' taste buds that different beer styles can have on the classic crisp varieties, you have a recipe for the kind of robust discussion that can all too easily descend into hurtful name-calling and even heat-of-the-moment injuries of the type inflicted by the less soggy edge of a beermat.

Never afraid to embrace the tough issues, we decided it was time to reconstitute The Publican¹s beer and snacks panel to decide once and for all just which is the best combination of beer style and crisp flavour.

Scientifically and demographically weighted by the time-honoured tradition of emailing everyone in the office and seeing who showed up, the panel was drawn from across the Publican portfolio. Representatives from The Publican​ itself, as well as Publican Live!​, Theme​ magazine, the Bar Show​ and The Publican Awards​ all gave up their time to get down to the serious business of weighing up 36 different combinations of flavours.

The Crisps

We went for well-established varieties with a nod toward the current trend for more robust flavours. Those selected, courtesy of Seabrooks, were:

Sea Salt​: The classic 'plain¹ crisp. Salty enough for a pub customer to work up a thirst, but the lack of added flavour might work against it when matched with some serious beers. Goes best with​: Black Sheep Ale

Cheese & Onion​: The smart money says this ought to match very nicely with a pint of bitter, but would the panel follow the betting? Yes. Goes best with​: Black Sheep Ale

Salt & Vinegar​: The Cinderella of crisp flavours, this long-established crisp variety might give our beers a few challenges. Goes best with:​ Pilsner Urquell

Smoky Bacon​: A pub standard, with a distinctive flavour which calls for a beer of strong character. Goes best with​: Black Sheep Ale

Worcestershire Sauce​: Ever read the ingredients label on a bottle of Lea & Perrins? From anchovies to onion, there¹s a lot of flavour jostling for attention. It takes a complex beer to take all those tastes on. Goes best with: Fuller¹s London Porter

Prawn Cocktail​: The love 'em or hate 'em seafood special, threat-ening to leave our panel of landlubbers high and dry. Goes best with: Pilsner Urquell

Beefy​: You can¹t beat a bit of bully, but our matching matadors gave it their best. Goes best with: Black Sheep Ale

Chicken & Stuffing​: The traditional flavour of a chicken crisp is mainly sage and onion, something which might have foxed our intrepid tasters. Goes best with: Black Sheep Ale

Hot & Spicy Mustard​: Our wild card. With so many snack suppliers now going down the spicy flavour route, how can any beer stack up against these palate-numbing terrors? The boys from Chiswick in London proved up to the task. Goes best with: Fuller¹s London Porter

The Beers

We went for three classic beer styles as well as a speciality brew to keep our panel guessing.

Black Sheep Ale​: A classic malty Yorkshire bitter with plenty of hops for a long, sharp finish. It takes a special kind of snack to take this on.

Top match:​ Smoky Bacon

No thanks​: Prawn Cocktail

Pilsner Urquell​: As authentic a lager as you¹ll find anywhere, brewed in Plzen in the Czech Republic. The deceptive dryness of Urquell made matching more of a challenge than the panel might have expected.

Top match​: Cheese & Onion/Salt & Vinegar

No thanks​: Chicken & Stuffing

Fuller¹s London Porter​: The dark horse in our beer line-up. Porter was traditionally served to accompany oysters, which ought to make this a perfect partner for prawn cocktail crisps ­ but would the panel spot the link? It appears not, with the fishiest flavour scoring worst on the day

Top match​: Smoky Bacon

No thanks​: Prawn Cocktail

Hoegaarden​: Styling itself the Beer of the Gods, the white beer from Belgium has ingredients including coriander and orange peel added during the brewing process. It may be this complexity of flavour which pushed our panel towards the simplest match.

Top match​: Sea Salt

No thanks​: Hot & Spicy Mustard

Scores on the doors

With a nine-person panel awarding a maximum of five points each match, the maximum any combination could score was 45.

Match of the Day​: Black Sheep Bitter with Smoky Bacon crisps, scoring an impressive 39 out of 45. "Black Sheep demands robust flavours", commented one of the panel, while another said the beer "works well with all the meaty flavours".

Imperfect Pair​: Black Sheep Bitter with Prawn Cocktail crisps, with a frankly embarrassing 13 out of 45. This reflects not only the uncompromising Yorkshire character of Black Sheep, but also that the extremes of reaction that Prawn Cocktail provokes ­ it¹s the Marmite of crisp flavours. "The flavours are at odds with each other" was a typical comment regarding the match.

Thanks to Black Sheep Brewery, Fuller¹s, InBev, SABMiller and Seabrooks Crisps for helping us out. Remember, the panel¹s scores and comments are based entirely on the suitability of the match, not the products themselves.

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