Frequent any high-end food pub or restaurant and you’ll inevitably be given the option to try a number of fine wines, matched to each course. It’s less likely you’ll be asked if you’d like to try a range of specially chosen and matched beers.
How food affects beer
Each food taste – bitterness, sweetness, saltiness, sourness and umami – affects the flavour of beer differently:
Sourness in food increases the perceived mouthfeel, sweetness and some hop notes, while umami increases the perception of bitterness and acidity in beer and lowers the perception of sweetness.
Saltiness in food lowers the perceived bitterness of the beer, while bitter food enhances beer bitterness. Lastly, sweetness enhances beer bitterness and acts as a contrast.
- Source: Nigel Sadler – Beer & Food Handbook 2015
But food and beer pairings are slowly becoming increasingly popular, with establishments, including Michel Roux Jr’s double Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant Le Gavroche turning to beer to accompany high-quality dishes.
So what are the benefits of matching beer and wine?
Appreciating the complexity
“Beer is a vastly more complex drink than wine in many aspects,” says beer sommelier Nigel Sadler. “It contains at least 1,000 compounds — most of which contribute to flavour.
“It uses a wider range of ingredients and then there’s the impact of the yeast and the water. Wine is intrinsically one ingredient — grape juice. There are many more beer styles and variations with which to match foods.”
For Sadler, the complexity of the compounds derived from the raw materials and fermentation gives operators far more to play with.
“Just try and pick a wine to go with smoked ham, smoked cheese or smoked salmon,” he says. “A beer containing a proportion of smoked malt would be ideal for this.”
Learning the basics
Sadler says that for those wanting to put together their first food and beer pairing menu, there are several golden rules to follow.
“First of all, treat blonde and golden beers and lagers as you would white wines and the darker, stronger bitters and porters as reds,” he says. “Secondly we need to understand what we’re looking for in any food and drink matching — one must enhance the other.
“You’re looking to complement, contrast, coordinate and cleanse,” he adds. “Complementing uses a similar flavour or characteristic in the beer and food, contrasting places the food and beer on opposite sides of the plate, coordinating balances food and beer intensity.
Beer sommelier Jane Peyton’s top three tips:
- One thing that can put diners off beer with food is the big ugly pint glass on the table. It looks inelegant. My answer is to serve the cask ale in
- a jug for the table and decant into wine glasses.
- Pubs having third pint measures are great to have with a meal because diners can choose a selection of beer to match each course.
- Beer and cheese is a much better match than wine and cheese. Beer and dessert — incredible.
“Finally, cleansing (or cutting) lifts and removes fats or oils — leaving the palate fresh and ready for the next mouthful.”
Utilising cask ale
As the recent Cask Report claims, cask ale has finally shaken off its image of being an ‘old man’s drink’, experiencing significant volume growth and considerably out-performing the on-trade beer market.
“Cask-ale drinkers visit the pub more often than non-cask drinkers and they spend more in pubs,” says beer sommelier and author of Beer o’ Clock Jane Peyton. “Food has good profit margins, so present an imaginative menu of food matched with beer to a cask drinker and it equals more profit.”
With many pubs yet to offer strictly cask matches for their menus, Peyton says doing so can create a significant point of difference.
“Bear in mind too that the cask drinker has spending power,” she adds. “With a group of people with mixed drink preferences, they will invariably defer to the cask drinker on the pub choice.”
Peyton also recommends licensees bear in mind the fact that cask-ale drinkers are often active on social media. “If they find a pub that celebrates beer and food together they are likely to tell their followers,” she says.
More food and beer pairings: