How can beer and pie pairings help pubs earn a crust?

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Life of pie: pairing a good pie with a good beer is one way to win custom
Life of pie: pairing a good pie with a good beer is one way to win custom

Related tags Pie

Pie and beer are both pub classics and operators who join these two forces can earn reap the rewards

The definition of ‘pie’ is a contentious subject in the food world, with many chefs kicking up a stink when, at the 2016 British Pie Awards, a beef skirt and vegetable pasty took home the title of Supreme Champion.

There was uproar about what constitutes a pie, with several saying the pasty is just not a pie. According to Fuller’s, it is simple: rule number one of pie is – no pastry, no pie. The entire filling has to be encased in pastry.

When it comes to pasties or sausage rolls, however, they are exactly what they say on the tin: a pasty is a pasty, a roll is a roll – and, of course, a pie is a pie.

A pub staple

Consider how wines pair with food

Pie (2)

Binary Botanical co-founder Danielle Bekker suggests operators use the same logic as wine pairings when it comes to marrying beer and food. She says: “Think about the intensity of the food and the flavours and aromas in both the food and the beer. So, for example, if you have a light dish, I certainly wouldn’t pair it with a stout.

“That said, beer is a bit more ‘universal’ than wine and can go with a broader range of food.”

In the simplest form:

  • Beers like wheat beers and brands like Binary, which are very aromatic and typically not very bitter, make a great accompaniment for seafood in the same way one would think of a white wine. Depending on which actual flavour notes you pick up you can pair it in more detail
  • Think of richer, more intensely flavoured beers that are designed to be sipped and savoured in the same way you would red wine

Beyond this – you have to think about do you want:

  • The flavours to work synergistically to elevate a particular flavour experience, eg, if you were having a rich chocolate desert, you might want to pair it with a porter or ale, which also has notes of vanilla and caramel to complement it
  • Or do you want to look at having contrasting flavours that are known to go well together (like chilli and chocolate)? So you could pair a very tart and astringent beer like a blueberry sour beer with duck as an example

Finally, it boils down to personal preference and make-up:

“We all have different flavour thresholds for different flavours and aromas and then different emotional reactions to flavours based on our experiences. For example, I cannot smell a particular form of violet at all (anosmia). So when you drink a beer, think of your own experience, what flavours you pick up and what you like and then what foods you would enjoy it with and it will be different for each of us.

“Fortunately, beer is quite forgiving so you can experiment a lot. Cheese is a great way of testing to the different food pairings for beer and seeing how different beers can really bring out the different characteristics of different cheeses.”

Having a good pie on the menu can mean taste buds are tickled and those customers are who are looking for a more traditional dish will be pleased too. While pairing the dish with a beer means drinkers can be tempted into staying for longer, having a meal and therefore, putting more money in the till.

Parlour in Kensal Green, west London, is famous for its cow pies, and head chef Jesse Dunford Wood is a huge advocate. He believes they work because they are a staple pub classic.

However, he also encounters controversy over the proper definition of a pie.

“We have had some opinionated people saying our cow pie is very nice but it’s not a real pie because it hasn’t got pastry on the bottom,” he explains.

“That is some people’s interpretation of a pie, believing ours is just stew with a lid on the top. It doesn’t cut the mustard for some, but it still tastes good.”

A market for pairing

Research by pastry firm Jus-Rol reveals three quarters of people enjoy a pie at least once a month, while more than 20% of those questioned in the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland ate in excess of one pie a week.

But how can the nation’s love of pies tie in to their favourite drink of beer? Sharp’s Brewery beer sommelier Ed Hughes said: “A more nuanced appreciation of beer in recent years means there’s a real opportunity to experiment with food and drink offerings.

“People are increasingly curious with their choices, meaning operators in the on-trade can be really adventurous with their menus.

“Beer is an incredibly versatile drink, perfect for pairing with all types of cuisine. The great British pub lunch often calls for a hearty pie.

“By investing in beer and food pairing, pubs can really drive footfall and encourage spend, while demonstrating beer deserves a place at the table.”

West Berkshire Brewery managing director Tom Lucas said: “The art of pairing beer and food has continued to increase in popularity in recent years with consumers increasingly looking to be more adventurous with flavours and dishes.

“We understand beer is food’s natural partner and pair all our beers with dishes that complement each other.”

Exceptionally good at pies

Beer makes it batter

The Fox & Hounds, Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, chef-patron James Rix

This pub regularly has pies on the menu including beef and ale pie with Adnams beer and a stout and braised beef pie.

It also serves fish and chips (also as a takeaway on Thursday evenings) and make an Adnams bitter batter.

One of the most popular dishes on their menu is mussels with cider – they use Adnams Wild Wave cider.

Chef-patron Rix says these dishes tie in well with the beer they serve – Adnams bitter and one guest beer, usually from their local Tring Brewery that he says produces flavourful and relatively light (not too hoppy) beers that match well with food.


Fuller’s makes the most of the pies and beer partnership through its Ale & Pie Pubs concept.

In a bid to stick to its London roots, the pubco has put the capital’s classic dish of pie and mash close to its heart.

Its Ale & Pie Pubs concept can be found at more than a dozen of its sites, with all but one in and around London, and it’s been a storming success since inception over 25 years ago.

In the early 1990s, Fuller’s converted former banks in prominent London locations into its Ale & Pie Pubs.

“There’s some urban legend around why it was banks, but the reality is because they had big basements downstairs with big vaults, which don’t have much ventilation,” says a Fuller’s spokesman.

“It was decided pies would be cooked in the vault because they require very little ventilation compared with, say, frying chips or fish.

“We have ended up getting exceptionally good at making pies.” Now, the pubco bakes more than a quarter of a million pies a year, forming upwards of 30% of its sales, with those behind the Ale & Pie Pubs brand priding themselves on having high-profile businesses in great locations.

A different experience

And Fuller’s insists it stands out from the crowd when it comes to the humble pie and a pint.

“You get a lot of pubcos doing a pie and pint, but that is not the same because it isn’t their speciality,” the spokesman adds.

“They buy those pies in, so it is not the same experience as us.

“Every single pie is freshly cooked inhouse and specially crafted in our kitchens with fresh pastry, and the fillings are changed every six months.

“Each of the pubs will do their own house pie, which is a take on what they want to do in the area they trade in but, obviously, we don’t do a blackbird pie.”

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