Beer and food matching: Top Tips

By Gurjit Degun

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beer

Beer and food matching: Top Tips
Not enough money in the till — check. A small kitchen — check. No time — check. Little subject knowledge — check. If you were to make a checklist of reasons why you’re not matching beers with food, you’d probably come up with these.

Yet, it could be argued that each one of these ‘excuses’ isn’t really an excuse at all, and there are a number of ways to get around such perceived problems. After all, matching beer and food really isn’t rocket science — but it is a great way to draw in extra customers.

According to the 2011 Cask Report, hosts who aren’t matching food with cask ale are missing out on incremental sales opportunities.

Customers will drink more if encouraged to try a different beer to match each course, rather than ordering one bottle of wine with a meal, the report said.

And before you’re wondering whether beer and food-matching is just another passing fad, you might be surprised to learn that some other countries have been pairing the two for years.

Tomas Olejnik, manager at the Masné Krámy bar in Budweis, Czech Republic, says he has always matched Budvar’s dark beer with food, and he even uses it in cooking.

Olejnik advises matching it with a pork fillet served with a parfait made using the dark beer. He explains that offering beer with food is part of the country’s culture. “We have always drunk beer with food, especially with a meat dish,” he says. “It’s traditional and a perfect combination.”

And if it works for the Czechs, there’s no reason why food and beer matching can’t be a success over here. After all, there are plenty of organisations willing to lend you their support.

Last year the Beer Academy introduced beer sommelier accreditation training, with beer and food-matching at its core. The academy is an educational body set up to help people understand and appreciate beer, and its sommeliers are very much its ambassadors.

To gain accreditation, sommeliers are required to pass three beer-related courses and demonstrate practical knowledge.

Renowned craft-brewer Nigel Sadler, one of the first beer sommeliers, believes beer and food-pairing is becoming an increasingly intrinsic part of a pub’s offer, and there’s a “whole generation” picking up on the trend.

“What we’ve seen is people turning away from formal restaurants and going to gastropubs or bistros instead,” he explains. “Wine sales are dipping, but beer sales are up. OK — that can be down to the cost of the wine, but I think people have also realised that you can have two glasses of 5% ABV beer with a meal, as opposed to two glasses of wine at 11% to 13% ABV.”

To some, matching food with a particular drink can sound rather highbrow — even a bit pretentious. But the same people tend to believe beer and food -matching evenings are often lavish five-course menus, designed to put on a show for customers.

This is a preconception that publicans need to overcome, Sadler suggests. “The reality is that you don’t need to go out and spend a lot of money stocking up on different beers and sophisticated food,” he claims.

“Even if you don’t do food, think about matching beer with, say, a tapas-style menu. You don’t need a chef in the kitchen — get in a few blocks of cheese, some olives, a bit of ham or sliced sausage that you can offer to your customers with a beer,” Sadler adds. “That way, the beer becomes more appetising and it makes having a drink an occasion.”

Sadler’s work as a sommelier has led him to discover that publicans often fail to realise the potential of what they already have.

“I appreciate it can be difficult if you’re tied, but there are always bottles — and I’m a firm believer that well-chilled fridges displaying a selection of bottles actually become a focal point for your customers,” he says.
Match-making: beer and food tastings are increasingly popular

“If you can offer a great range of beer — not just traditional ales and lagers, but maybe some porters, milds, wheat beers and fruit beers — it’s a great way to start,” he says.

But it’s not just about the range. Presentation plays a large part in the offering too, and attention to detail such as serving the beers in stemmed glasses adds to the occasion. The glasses don’t have to be new — Sadler believes your existing wine glasses can work equally well.

Serving beer in a wine glass may sound odd, but it will quickly help to generate interest. “The pint glass has its place, but as soon as you start serving beer in a stemmed glass, it adds a bit of theatre,” says Sadler.

“If you serve a nice crisp golden ale in a Champagne flute at the start of the meal, it adds to the sense of occasion. You do it with wine,  so why not with beer?”

When he’s running tastings with wine glasses, Sadler has noticed this changes beer’s image. “People suddenly realise it’s there to be enjoyed and goes with the food,” he adds.

Presentation doesn’t just involve glassware — how staff prepare and promote a beer and food-matching offer can really add value.

“Staff should provide beer recommendations when customers order food at the bar,” Sadler explains. “But it is also about presentation — how you pour that beer, whether it is a half-pint, or even out of a bottle. Pour it nicely, treat it as you would wine, and your customers will come back.”

Once you’ve done that, you can sit back and toast your success. With a flute of ale, of course.

Nigel Sadler’s tips for pairing beer with traditional pub food

According to beer sommelier Nigel Sadler, food and beer-pairing rests on three principles: you are aiming to cut through food, such as those with high oil or fat content; or to complement that food, for example by serving a ginger-flavoured beer with a similarly flavoured pudding, or you’re looking to contrast. Here are a selection of Sadler’s favourite suggestions:


  • Rich liver pâté, foie gras or mushroom pâté with a cherry or a raspberry beer, or a mild.
  • Calamari fried in batter with a nice Pilsner lager — not just Pilsner Urquell but also Carling, for instance, which will lift and cut through the fat.


  • Steak & chips with a classic porter or a Fuller’s ESB-style full-bodied bitter, which picks up on the meat’s slightly burnt notes where it has been grilled or fried.
  • Chicken dishes with wheat beer.
  • Curry with a variety of strong-hopped IPAs. Stouts complement rich, creamy curry, such as korma.


  • Stouts work well with chocolate puddings, apple crumble, or creamy puddings such as trifle — or try a Belgian fruit beer.
  • Pairing beer with chocolate actually works better than wine and chocolate.

An 8% to 11% ABV barley wine works best with Stilton and mature cheddars.

Top tip: stand out from the crowd
Bullish: Dan Fox suggests training staff to get customers interested

Dan Fox at the Bull in Highgate, London, has matched beer with food for more than five years. He opened the Bull, a brewpub, last August and features beer recommendations on his menu. Fox says this helps him differentiate his offer and stay ahead of the competition.
“Beer has a larger diversity of flavour than wine — so it is nice to introduce it to people and give them the opportunity to try something different,” he explains. “The pub would still be successful if I didn’t put beer matches on the menu or hold beer-and-food events, but it’s good to be different.”
However, Fox believes staff training is vital if you want to be successful with beer-and-food pairings. “If your staff know about the beers on offer and what goes well with which foods, they will get your customers interested,” says Fox. “Get your staff to try the beers with food.”
For a different take on a beer-and-cheese evening, Fox teamed up with his local cheese supplier, Jumi, at London’s Borough Market. They matched 15 cheeses with seven Schneider beers. “We had about 40 people there, and all we needed to do was chop up some cheese, which really isn’t hard,” says Fox.

Top tip: get the marketing right

Teaming up with local suppliers to host a beer and food-matching evening can really help stretch the pound, according to Rupert Ponsonby of Beer Genie, which promotes all things beer.
“More and more people are getting into localism and this is a great opportunity for licensees to support their local cheese, pudding, or pie supplier,” he explains. “It is also an opportunity to make your pound go further by working with two lots of people on the same project. It’s a better use of time and money.”

He adds that hosting a simple event such as this, without having to spend too much, can help pubs stand out from others in their area. But key to this, Ponsonby says, is ensuring you get the marketing correct.
“I live in the Cotswolds and am staggered by how many people don’t use boards more effectively. All too many pubs have the same message outside, year after year. If someone disregards that message once, they will disregard it for the rest of their life.”
He adds: “You can go down the fancy or the standard route. Either way, people have to shout more on A-boards, and inside their pub on blackboards.”

Top tip: showcase your pub
Giovanni Pilla of the Hollywood Arms in London’s Chelsea uses free quirky events such as an evening of pairing beer with cheese to bring in more custom and to get to know his locals.
He says this type of “quick event” can really bring in more people, and the evening helps to showcase the pub.

At a recent event Pilla selected five cheeses — all British — and matched them with Young’s beers that the pub serves. The cheeses included Camembert, a Cornish Yarg and a goats’ cheese. He asked his own chef to describe to the audience the flavours that were available.

“We had about 25 to 30 people turn up — it was very casual and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Everything was laid out on a table with labels,” Pilla explains.

“We want to attract people to the venue, and encourage them to come in and say, ‘wow’. I suppose we do take a small hit on our GP to showcase the environment, but we hope we will more than make up for that in repeat business.”

The events also enable Pilla to speak to people on a different level, rather than staying behind the bar. “It’s a great way of getting to know your customers,” he says.

Top tip: look to your local brewery

Simon Howlett: beer advocate

With cask ale being Britain’s national drink, Simon Howlett, head development chef at Kent brewery Shepherd Neame, thinks more licensees should be showcasing it with food.

“Beer and food-matching is something that we as a country should be doing because English history is steeped in beer,” he says. “And beer offers at least as many flavours as wine and can be matched with food more effectively. Growing awareness of this is making it popular.”

Howlett adds: “Beer with food can often work out cheaper than a whole bottle of wine for the customer. And with the range of measures now available, there is more scope for them to try different types of beers. It’s all about educating the customer about what matches best and why — just as you do with wine.”

Howlett is also a strong believer in providing recommendations throughout the day when people order food — it’s easy to match beer with your everyday menu as long as you follow the general principles, he explains.

“The only thing that I’ve found doesn’t match with beer is smoked food — the strong flavour is very hard to cut through with a beer,” he maintains. “Smoked salmon is OK, but a strongly flavoured fish such as smoked mackerel can prove difficult.”

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