RSS Feeds

Advanced search

You are in:

Guest Columns

The craft beer revolution

The popularity of craft beer has risen dramatically over the past couple of years, and the rise in food and beer pairing is not far behind, says Ed Hughes, beer sommelier at Sharp's Brewery

Ed Hughes Sharp's Brewery

There is no denying that in the UK we are undergoing a craft beer revolution along with an increased interest in food and beer pairing. According to independent research from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), consumers want a wide range of beers to choose from when they dine out. The research found that more than a third of diners would be more inclined to dine at a restaurant if it offered a wider portfolio of craft beer. However, despite the rise in the popularity of craft beer, the majority of restaurants in the UK do not have an extensive beer list. By ignoring consumer demands, restaurants are missing out on a potentially lucrative market. Yet, it is the responsibility of the beer industry to harness this untapped opportunity.  

The beer industry is quite shy about educating people about the different styles and flavour profiles that it has to offer. The average wine drinker can name a grape variety, a region, a country and a style of wine — whereas the average beer drinker generally knows whether they prefer lager, ale or stout — or are led by a brand.

As a beer sommelier at Sharp’s Brewery, I am passionate about challenging these perceptions and helping the growing trend of food and beer pairing to flourish. One of the most gratifying parts of my job is getting people who don’t normally drink beer to try pairing it with food and converting them!

Food and beer pairing

For publicans and restaurateurs, it is important to educate staff about the possible food and beer pairings available. Front of house staff should be confident in talking about beer and food, and explaining which combinations work best on their menu, and why. These pairings should be the central to the dining experience, rather than an afterthought. This will not only help to attract, but also retain customers.

There are actually less rules when it comes to matching beer and food compared to wine, so in that respect beer is a lot more versatile. As a basic rule, paler beers tend to go well with lighter, delicate flavours, such a white fish, whereas richer beers are better suited to fuller flavours.

When looking to pair fish and chicken, pubs and restaurants should be looking at their range of lighter ales and lagers like Pilsners but for darker, richer dishes such as a rack of lamb or a cut of beef, dark, rich beers work well (try our 6 Vintage Blend). We know that pairing wine with dessert can be tricky and dessert wines are not to everyone’s taste, which is where beer can really shine through as a match with food. We would suggest pairing a treacle tart with something like our Honey Spice IPA, which really complements and balances those sweeter flavours.

We are fortunate that we get to try out numerous beer and food pairings at our pub, just down the road from the brewery in Rock. The Mariners Public House is a joint venture between Sharp’s Brewery and Michelin starred chef Nathan Outlaw and we work hard to ensure that the fantastic dishes on the menu are complemented by the perfect beer to really bring out the flavours in each. A firm favourite amongst Mariner’s customers at the moment is our Dubbel Coffee Stout beer paired with Tiramisu (also made using Dubbel Coffee Stout as an ingredient).

In 2011 we ran a beer and food master class with Nathan Outlaw and Tom Kerridge at the St Enodoc Hotel in Cornwall, and found that Tom’s Hand and Flower’s chocolate cake went really well with the Quadrupel Ale from our Connoisseur’s Choice range (10% ABV, so quite strong). It’s a beer that wants to be a Pedro Ximenez dessert wine, but without the cloying sweetness. It’s very encouraging to see that some of the biggest names in the food industry are really supporting this trend and five years on they still believe and practice it rather than it being a flash in the pan ‘trend’.

Why the beer sector needs to harness the trend

Although we might see that this is a 'beer revolution' (which is still growing), we prefer to think of it as more of a 'beer renaissance'. Beer is thousands of years old and has been at the dining table around the world continuously in that time, yet it is still relatively rare for modern consumers to consider or be offered beer with food in a restaurant environment.

We believe that it is the beer industry which needs to harness and build on the momentum we now have and to support publicans and restaurateurs in actively encouraging consumers to try out food and beer matchings, which will in turn prompt a shift in perceptions and give beer the respect that it deserves.

16 May 2016