Beer and food matching used to be touted as the next big thing. Yet it hasn’t taken off to the degree I’d expected for something that seems such an easy way for pubs to sell more beer. Why is it on my mind now? Other than the fact I’m an accredited beer sommelier – and beer and food pairing is an important element of that – it’s partly this publication’s recent list of ‘nine top chefs who own pubs’. I took a gander through the list and went in search, albeit only online, of evidence of beer and food matching. I found none. Some of the websites didn’t even mention beer! I find it bizarre that chefs with pubs aren’t more proactive at putting beer and food together. If I had higher expectations, I’d have been disappointed, but I’ve got used to this state of affairs.
A few years ago, I went to a fantastic beer and food-matched meal at Heston Blumental’s Hind’s Head in Bray, Berkshire – one of the pubs on the aforementioned list. It was hosted by drinks importer Heathwick to showcase American craft beers from Fordham and Dominion Breweries, and it was delicious. Devils on horseback (prunes soaked in Armagnac, then wrapped in pancetta) paired with Dominion Oak Barrel Stout still stands out in my mind as one of the best beer and food pairings I’ve had. The downside was that it was a one-off private dinner to promote the beers, rather than something the restaurant does as a matter of course. This was often the way with fabulous beer and food matched dinners – and it seems little has changed.
I’ll grant you there are now more pubs that put a few suggested beer pairings on their menus. But often, when I ask them how and why they did it, I’m met with blank looks that make it clear it’s little more than something trendy to write on the menu. While it’s a welcome step in the right direction, printed suggestions that sit passively on menus are likely to go unnoticed. It’s a half-hearted approach when what is needed is passionate promotion by pub staff who have, at least, tasted the pairings. But I still haven’t come across many places that do that, other than the White Horse at Parsons Green, south-west London.
Restaurants ahead of pubs
Just as I was grumbling to myself about this, a press release about Manchester Beer Week (29 June to 8 July) arrived. ‘Top Manchester restaurants work with brewers on a series of one-off beers,’ it proclaimed. I sighed. One-off beer promotional event I thought, but reading on I saw that it ‘aims to showcase beer’s strength as a partner for food.’
Notice that it’s restaurants rather than pubs that are doing this. Then consider Manchester Beer Week is about promoting the area as ‘one of the United Kingdom’s premiere destinations for beer enthusiasts’.
Once again, I can’t help feeling pubs are missing a trick. If restaurants start to get ahead when it comes to beer, not just by offering a range of great beers but also by pairing them with their menus, it’ll be yet another reason for a punter not to go to the pub.
“For too long, the restaurant trade has defaulted to wine as its core drinks offer, largely because it has lazily followed tradition. Many places take great care in presenting excellent food using carefully sourced ingredients, yet give little thought to the beer they serve alongside it,” says Manchester Beer Week organiser Connor Murphy. He echoes my own thinking, except I believe pubs are guilty of this too. Especially the ones owned by chefs.
Effort reaps reward
It cuts both ways because there’s also many a wet-led pub – be it a traditional boozer, micro or craft beer bar – that doesn’t give enough thought to offering something more than crisps, let alone something that tastes good with beer.
I can’t be alone in being more likely to stay for another drink if I can get something to line my stomach. Similarly, for this beer enthusiast, when it comes to eating out, if somewhere makes an effort to pair beer and food that’s where I’m going.
Perhaps it’s not quite as in vogue as it once was, and the shortage of chefs probably doesn’t help pubs when it comes to being more creative, but licensees must not give up on the sales opportunities beer and food matching offers.