Craft has been big news in the beer industry for years, and many of us are now shunning mass-produced ales in favour of brews that offer a little more complexity. Given that backdrop it’s a surprise that beer and food matching is still an under-the-radar activity while wine and food pairing remains a growing pastime. Many of its fans believe that beer is a more complex drink than wine, with myriad more opportunities for matching. If you want to give beer and food pairing a try but you’re not sure where to begin, start by reading our quick rundown on what to look out for. Then scroll through our guide to six restaurants, pubs and bars across the UK where you can try the concept for yourself.
Some things to consider when beer pairing
Match intensities. This is a bit of common sense: delicate dishes will be overpowered by a full-flavoured beer and visa versa – match like with like. The other thing is to remember to consider the whole plate rather than pairing just the protein as other elements might throw things off balance. E.g. if you’re having an Asian chicken salad, the most important element when pairing will be the chilli.
Sweet As with wine, it’s usually best to match sweet with sweet. There are some fantastic sweeter-style porters, ales and Belgian beers out there now. Try Wild Beer Co.’s Millionaire
Salt Salty and umami foods work well to contrast high levels of acidity in beers, so try styles like wits, saisons, sours, and Berliner weiss. The food and beer will balance each other and allow other flavours in both to shine.
Acidity Ingredients like tomatoes can be high in acidity, as can many salad dressings or sauces. For this, use the same principal as with sweet food and match like with like.
Bitterness In the same way that some high-acid wines are often paired with rich food to ‘cut through’ the fattiness, many people enjoy the contrast of high-hopped beers with this style of food. Think bitter, spicy IPAs like many of the craft beers available now.
Chilli heat This is always the hardest element of food to pair with anything whether that’s beer or wine. The key thing to remember is that a higher ABV will open your taste buds and intensify the level of heat, so keep it low – around 5%. Another thing that can help with chilli heat is sweetness, so look for these kinds of beers when looking for a pairing.
Six of the best places to try beer and food pairing across the UK
The Westbury, Mayfair
You might be surprised to find that the elegant dining room at Michelin-starred restaurant, Alyn Williams at The Westbury, offers not only wine flights to pair with its five-course tasting menu but beer flights too. Expect the likes of Orkney scallop with ramson custard, dashi and brown butter crumb served with light, refreshing Partian saison brewed with lemon and thyme; Cornish lemon sole, Italian bitter greens, toasted linseeds and hollandaise matched with a richer, creamier wheat beer with hints of coriander and orange peel; and Hardwich lamb [is this definitely Hardwich and not Herdwick?], sweetbread kofta, pickled aubergine, feta and cucumber paired with Harviestoun 16 year reserve – a stout-style beer aged in whisky barrels for a delicious, smoky flavour. alynwilliams.com
Duck and Rice, Soho
Billed as a Cantonese pub, Duck & Rice opened last summer by Alan Yau and offers authentic Asian food in a slick, polished room. One of the most recent ventures from Alan Yau (the man behind Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Busaba Eathai, Wagamama and Park Chinois), its downstairs area is a casual space featuring tanks of beer that have been delivered direct from the Pilsner Urquell brewery in the Czech Republic. The menu is long and features dishes such as roast duck, lobster Cantonese and probably the best prawn toast in London. As well as that tank-fresh pilsner (the perfect balance of hops and effervescence to cut through this style of cooking) and a great selection of craft beers (on draught and by the bottle) Duck & Rice ups the beer-drinking stakes with a list of five beer cocktails including a Beer Negroni and a Tank Old Fashioned. theduckandrice.com
Friends of Ham, Leeds
This Leeds favourite, which as the name suggests, is a bar that specialises in plates of charcuterie (and cheese). The team behind it are serious about piggy stuff, carefully selecting independent suppliers who source their stock from high-welfare farms. They’re equally geeky about beer, with a huge selection to choose from. Pull up a stool at the bar, order a plate of ham so paper-thin and rich that it yields to the heat of your hands, and let the staff pick you out the perfect brew (or brews) to sip alongside it. friendsofham.com
Scran & Scrallie, Edinburgh
Last year, Tom Kitchin launched his signature ale, Yer Ben, with the help of the Isle of Skye Brewery and it became a favourite in the olive office. A smooth golden ale with a full body but delicate hops, it lends itself to lots of food matches but works particularly well with seafood. If you’re craving more pairings, head to Kitchin’s pub The Scran & Scallie in Edinburgh and you can enjoy a beer flight with your meal. Ask the expert staff to choose a trio of artisan ales that compliment the food and each other and you won’t be disappointed. scranandscallie.com
Run by brother and sister team, Robin and Melanie Frean, this south London restaurant is the epitome of the perfect neighbourhood joint. The kitchen is headed up by Mike Brown (who came to Hood after a seven-year stint at Caprice Holdings), who turns out modern British food using locally-sourced ingredients. Must-order dishes include blackened salmon salad with tangy pickled cucumber and a buttermilk, horseradish dressing, and fall-apart beef with smoked carrot, short rib and onions. Let the enthusiastic team match these to one of their selection of locally-brewed beers such as Magic Rock’s high Wire and Partizan’s X Ale. hoodrestaurants.com
Pint Shop, Cambridge
The inspiration for Pint Shop came from the beer houses that sprung up across England in the 1830s in response to the Beerhouse Act – and a commitment to providing a space that embraces food and drink equally. In this case, the pared-back room has a parquet floor and natural wooden tables and chairs and walls painted a muted grey/green colour. The result is a welcoming atmosphere in which to work your way through a staggering collection of beers (both local and from further afield), and crowd-pleasing food (much of which is cooked over a charcoal grill). pintshop.co.uk
Written by Sarah Kingsbury, June 2016