Food and beer: the big match in pubs

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beer Food Cask ale

Balance the flavours of beer and food together
Balance the flavours of beer and food together
Michelle Perrett looks at ways to maximise cask-ale sales around food, using innovative menu combinations and special events. Having a beer with...

Michelle Perrett looks at ways to maximise cask-ale sales around food, using innovative menu combinations and special events.

Having a beer with your food isn't anything new. But over the past few years the licensed trade has really embraced the concept of running food and cask-beer events to promote the whole sector.

And food and cask-beer matching is becoming increasingly important to licensees who are forced to be more innovative in an increasingly tough market.

During 2010, five members of the Independent Family Brewers of Britain (IFBB), conducted surveys across their tenanted estates canvassing the views of around 500 licensees. An impressive 62% of licensees agreed that food matching with beer was important to their business.

Paul Wells, chairman of the IFBB, says: "For nearly all pubs nowadays it is crucial to serve food, and this research shows us that licensees want us to help with matching food and beer.

"Cask beers are the ideal beers to serve with all sorts of food, they are craft-brewed and our members have a huge range from which to choose.

"The best way to present them is with a beer menu detailing tasting notes for each beer."

And it is not just the small family brewers looking to capitalise on the beer and food-matching phenomenon — larger brewers such as Molson Coors are putting their weight behind the concept.

Cask beer and food matching can encompass a range of offers from special evening events, putting matches on the menu, to using beer in food.

Beer and food-matching: special events

Pubs and brewers have been capitalising on the growing interest in beer and food matching by running evening events. As well as showcasing the British pub, these events are a great way to increase covers during quieter times. Shepherd Neame is running a series of food and drink-matching evenings at a range of its pubs for £20.

They are proving so popular that they are already booked up until the end of the year.

Shepherd Neame senior brewer Stewart Main says the events aim to drive new consumers into the market and are educational as the brewer talks through the brewing process and the particular attributes of the beers.

"It is only in the past couple of years that we have really ramped these events up. But it is a great opportunity for a brewer to show its beers and it is a great showcase for beers generally," he says.

"It opens up people's eyes to the variety of beers and the range of flavours there is. It is about serving the beer in nice glassware, like the Belgians do.

"It is an interactive, educational and entertaining evening. It is fun. I call it edutainment," Main adds.

He works closely with the pub chef a couple of weeks before the event to organise beers the pub wants to showcase and work out a menu.

Over an evening, customers will get the opportunity to taste up to eight beers and eat six matching meals.

Main says the evenings often work well when linked in with a special event such as Burns' Night or St George's Day, as the menu and beers can be themed.

He believes matching beer and food is "common sense", although chefs should be careful to ensure the right balance of flavours between the food and beer.

"It doesn't work if you have a dish heavy in garlic or chilli — it will just kill the flavours," he says.

Get suppliers involved

Black Sheep Brewery is running events at its visitor centre near Ripon, North Yorkshire.

Menus include Yorkshire rarebit with Black Sheep Best Bitter, tempura prawns with Golden Sheep, lamb shank braised in Black Sheep Ale, Yorkshire chocolate pudding with a porter-style beer, and cheese & biscuits with Riggwelter.

Head brewer Alan Dunn says: "It started last year during National Cask Ale Week when people were encouraged to sponsor a ladies' event. In the end, we got 70 women to take up the offer."

The brewery has the advantage of having chefs on site (who work at the Black Sheep Bar & Bistro) to devise the food and beer matching options. "We sit down with our chefs and come up with a menu.

"As a general rule of thumb, the lighter the food styles the lighter beer is matched."

Dunn advises licensees thinking of focusing on beer and food matching to speak to their beer suppliers first and see how they can help.

"I think starting with themed evenings in the pub can work well, and then the licensee will be able to gauge the reaction of customers.

"To sell on the provenance of food and drink is also a good selling tool," Dunn says.

Guidelines to good matches

Anyone can try matching some cask beer and food — but what will actually work?

According to Chris Lewis, marketing director for Wells & Young's: "The four golden guidelines to pairing beers with food is that they must fall into one of the following categories: cleanse the palate, co-ordinate the flavour intensity, contrast flavours or complement flavours."

The brewer has launched a scheme in conjunction with Charles Wells Pub Company to help licensees make the most of their beer and food offering. This not only includes assistance with beer and food-matching menus — stating which beer goes best with each dish, but also menu ideas that use the beer in the food.

"This, therefore, drives the throughput of beers because they are being used twice — as an ingredient as well as a food match," he says.

Lewis advises licensees to shout about their cask beers by highlighting them on the menu as a food match, at the bar when people are choosing, and recommend the matches to people when they are deliberating about what to drink.

Pitch to your market

A full-scale drink and food-matching menu may not be right for your pub and pitching your offer to the local market is essential. Angus McKean, chef at the Red Lion in Barnes, south-west London, advises licensees to canvas their market before launching a full-scale food and drink-matching offer.

"You have to be careful you pitch it right. I am aware that, just because we all talk about cask beer and food matching, it doesn't mean the customers do," he says.

McKean concentrates on using Fuller's ales in his cooking and pushing one-off matches to customers.

"The best match is to serve London Porter with a slice of chocolate cake," he adds. McKean also employs Fuller's ales in his cooking, using London Pride in battered fish, for example, although he advises chefs not to overload the menu with these types of matches as it can scare off some of the customers.

He issues a tip to chefs cooking with beer.

"When you cook with wine you get into the habit of reducing it. With beer, just pour it in and serve, so you don't mess with the flavours."

Get your chef involved

Jeff Watts, licensee at the Fuller's Red Lion, in Chalton, Hampshire, has experience of introducing beer and food matching into his former pubs and these have proved a good business booster. McKean says: "We have been in the pub for only a few months and are planning to launch beer and food matching soon.

"This pub already has a good following of real-ale drinkers. I introduced cask beer and food matching at previous pubs and I have seen an uplift in sales. Putting a blackboard alongside the chef's menu with matching suggestions is something that works really well."

He advises licensees considering introducing beer and food matching to start with the head chef and work across the team to ensure everyone is knowledgeable about the topic.

Beer and food matching is important to newly-launched business the Rutland & Derby pub in Leicester. The outlet opened at the end of November, with a delicatessen counter allowing customers to come in and buy products — and eat them — on the premises.

Licensee Sam Hagger said: "I think if you are a little aspirational and people are trading up as you're offering high-quality food, then cask beer and food matching is important.

"All our staff are trained to match wine and beer with the deli. The staff are keen to tell them about it. Because we offer something

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