Beer & food focus: Tailoring your offer

Related tags Beer Publican food report Beer style

THE SURVEY of the trade carried out for the 2007 Publican Food Report found that less than a quarter of pubs recommend beers to match dishes on their...

THE SURVEY of the trade carried out for the 2007 Publican Food Report found that less than a quarter of pubs recommend beers to match dishes on their menus. While not every customer wants recommendations, the diverse range of beer style now readily available to pubs means there is a choice of beer to complement any dish on the menu. Interest in beers with genuine heritage matches closely to varieties growing consumer interest in regional produce.

North West brewer and pub operator JW Lees creates bespoke beer and food menus for special events and seasonal occasions in its pubs. Christina Lees Jones, director of catering, says: "Beer and food matching is not a simple task and is something that needs to be given full attention to be done properly, which is why a lot of pubs haven't yet fully embraced the opportunities."

She suggests pubs test the water by putting together a guide to which beer types will suit which food. "Unique flavours work best to enhance the taste of the food ingredients. For example cherry and raspberry beers work well with chocolate desserts, whilst our JW Lees Harvest Ale is a perfect match for Stilton," she explains.

The growth of food sales in pubs has prompted Britain's biggest brewer, Scottish & Newcastle (S&N), to take a close look at the factors which influence customers' choice of drink to accompany food. The overall trend in eating out is towards more informal occasions, something which clearly benefits pubs over more traditional restaurants. However, within that trend, it is possible to identify a range of different eating occasions.

Eating occasions

Shaun Heyes, head of category marketing at S&N UK, says: "These can vary from someone having a quick bite to eat on the go or groups of women on a girls' night out, who may prefer platter-style dishes that they can share, to a couple enjoying a full evening meal together.

"Each individual consumer group has different motivations for purchasing alcohol and varying needs in terms of the brands they are looking for. By understanding these motivations we can help licensees match our brands according to consumption occasion, and I'm confident that our customers will reap the rewards."Shaun believes licensees need to be more aware of different beer and cider flavours to match them to different foods.

"To help our customers do this, we have investigated the different attributes of our brands and paired them with corresponding foods," he says. The fruity character with subtle hints of citrus of Kronenbourg Blanc makes it an ideal accompaniment to fish, white meat and desserts, as well as a contrast to spicy foods.

Kronenbourg 1664 Premier Cru has a smooth toffee apple and caramel taste with honey hints, which pairs well with red meats and gourmet cheeses, for example grilled steak or braised lamb shank. Belgian fruit cider Jacques is a refreshing alternative to wine with a lighter evening meal or bar lunch, such as fish cakes or a sharing platter.

A well thought-out range of beers and ciders that complements the food offering need to be backed up by training to ensure that staff are knowledgeable about the different flavours. Drinks served at the correct temperature and in the right glassware also enhance the experience.

S&N is carrying the 'with food' message forward into 2008. "Over the next year we will work closely with our customers to help them understand consumers' needs and, as a result, how to make the most of the 'beer and cider with food' occasion," says Shaun.

Cooking with beer

Beer is just as versatile when used in the kitchen. Beer flavours food with bitterness from the hops, sweetness from the malt and a yeasty bite from the fermented brew. It works especially well with meats such as beef and lamb due to its tenderising properties.

Hugh Judd, foodservice project manager for the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), says: "Beer is a great ingredient and can really add something special to a red meat dish. "What's more, the combination often makes for a popular menu item, for example the classic steak and ale pie was one of the top three best selling main course dishes in the recent Publican Food Report."

One important point to remember is that the more beer or ale is cooked and reduced, the stronger its flavour becomes. If a dish requires long cooking and reduction, avoid using strongly flavoured beers which could overpower the dish.Hugh also suggests that pubs create a special themed menu and pair beers with some of their top selling dishes. "Offering a special combination of local ale and local food will hold great appeal for customers while generating added interest and sales," he points out.

Pork and beer is also a great combination, although the cut of the meat and the way in which it has been cooked will influence the type of beer to which it is best suited.British Pig Executive (BPEX) foodservice trade manager Tony Goodger says: "A pork casserole or steak can be enhanced by a lighter beer whereas a roast of thick stew can benefit from a more robust and fuller flavoured beer. "There is also room to incorporate new drink trends.

"Bottled cider has seen a huge growth in pubs and restaurants with many beer drinkers now opting for the lighter and more refreshing taste that comes with cider over ice."In response, BPEX has developed - in conjunction with the National Association of Cider Makers - a new range of pork and cider recipes, ideal for customers who are looking for something lighter and healthier after over-indulging during the Christmas period."

Tony adds: "Pork cooked with cider is a great alternative to cooking with beer or wine, and there are a variety of ciders to choose from - either dry and light or strong and sweet. You could even try out your own homemade brew."

Anne Mulcahy, channel marketing manager, Brakes, says: "Matching beer and food is a great way to drive sales and to get customers to experiment with beers they wouldn't usually try.

"You don't have to be an expert to match food and drink, simply theme according to cuisine type. For example, with a dish such as Irish stew offer an Irish stout, sweet and sour chicken can be teamed with a Chinese beer, and an Italian beer is ideal with pasta such as tagliatelle carbonara. Meanwhile, bitter is synonymous with homely British foods such as pies and sausages and mash, and cider goes really well with a cheese board."

Anne continues: "It's important to pick beers that really bring out the flavours in dishes, for example, with a fruit-based dessert serve a fruity beer. If you have a dish with really strong flavours, you need a beer that can cut through them without masking.

"Also recommend different beers to customers for different courses, as one beer won't fit all. You don't have to serve beer by the pint, with food it can be better to offer smaller glasses so that customers can try a different beer with each course or share a large bottle of beer among friends as you would a bottle of wine."

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