It would be wrong to say beer is better with food than wine, or wine is better than beer. They just do completely different things: the carbonation in beer can act as a palate cleanser, spritzy hoppy beers can cool the heat of fiery chillies, and malty beers complement most cheeses and roast meats. No other drink has as much variety and versatility as beer.
So it’s time to re-think the appeal of beer as a drink to complement and enhance a variety of meals, from fish ‘n chips, to steak pie, to a cheeseboard.
Ordering a beer with food is not as alien a concept to most of your customers as you may think. Most of us automatically reach for the beer when we go for a curry, or drink an ice cold lager when we have ethnic food in a restaurant – we know it works really well. But how often do your customers get a beer recommended when they order some pub food? Rarely, because the wine menu is ever present and they’re not given the choice.
There’s a big opportunity for you to offer beer as a desirable alternative to wine to accompany food. Don’t think of it as ‘cannibalising’ your wine sales. Think of it as offering customers a choice.
How do we do it?
The Three Cs:
This is where the flavours in the beer meld with the flavours in the food to create a perfect balance in your mouth. Delicate dishes, such as grilled chicken, work best with delicately flavoured beers, and stronger flavoured foods such as roast beef or steaks call for a more assertive beer. The intensity of flavour in food should match the intensity of the beer. It can also apply to the colour of the food and beer, for example, light golden ales complement chicken and fish dishes, and robust amber ales work best with red meats and strong cheeses.
This is where the combination of the carbonation in beer and zesty hops refresh and ‘cut’ through oily or fatty foods. Cheese, oily fishes (like smoked salmon), lamb, and fried foods all leave a coating of fat on the tongue. Beer cuts through this fat, and refreshes and cleanses the palate. Very hoppy beers can also cut through the heat of chillies in spicy foods
This is where very different flavours in the food and the beer create a special combination. Good examples are fruity beers contrasting with chocolate puddings and pate, or creamy desserts like Vanilla Cheesecake contrasting with the espresso like flavours in stouts and porters.
Offering beer with food can be a new concept for a lot of pubs and a challenge. However, if the following actions are taken, it can offer a real opportunity and point of difference for customers.
Offering guests a ‘glass’ of beer is far more appealing than a ‘pint’ of beer. Think about glassware and how you can premiumise beer by serving it in attractive glassware such as stemmed glassed or chalice glasses.
Get staff to recommend their personal favourites. Personal recommendations are really powerful so do regular training sessions with the team to allow them to experience how beer matches food
Communication and Point of Sale
Make sure your menus and point of sale recommend a beer as well as a wine to go with particular dishes. Our top 10 tips are:
1. Use a small bar top chalk board to promote a ‘beer of the day’ matched with a particular menu item
2. Use old fashioned luggage tags tied around hand pulls to advertise the best food match. Write “Great with………..” on the luggage tag
3. Utilise beer chalkboards and match a menu item with each beer
4. If your range of beers is permanent, have a beer menu as well as a wine menu
5. The majority of female drinkers/diners look for a table or seat before they go to the bar. Use tent cards, menus and table talkers to advertise your beer range. Guests tend to read any literature put out on tables and it can influence their choice of drink
6. Offer ‘bundle deals’: pie and a pint, or a burger and a bottle, for a set price
7. Task your team with recommending the ‘beer of the day’ with every meal sold
8. Advertise the 3 1/3 pint platters available with bar snacks
9. Sampling: ‘Try Before You Buy’ is a powerful way of getting guests to sample a product they may not have originally chosen. On set days offer samples of beer with small food samples such as cheese
10. Explicitly match dishes on the menu with beers that are available. Use the Cut, Complement and Contrast principles to illustrate why a beer goes with a particular dish
Want some further inspiration? Read our favourite beer and food matches, from Beer Sommelier, Annabel Smith, here.