Beer & Food: There’s Nothing To Be Scared Of!

I recently commented on this exchange over on Pete Brown’s blog; it’s not often that I want to throw my laptop out of the window but this occasion came pretty close. It wasn’t just the tone of the comment by Brian, which was hostile in a way it needn’t have been – it was the fact that this comment was made in the first place which saddened me.

As it happens, I’ve pretty much had the same thing said to me on a couple of occasions, believe it or not.  I generally don’t respond – just brushing it off and carrying on. Well, now’s time for me to put a few thoughts out there – why not?

Beer is an extension of Food. As is wine, sure, but I don’t give up an inordinate amount of time promoting, discussing, drinking and helping the Wine industry, so I will keep my blinkers on. I never – ever – want to hear ‘Beer is the new Wine’. Its patronising, belittling, and slightly condescending. Beer is Beer. Wine is Wine.

Right – that’s that out of the way. There’s a perfect circle which can be formed when you eat and drink well. If you live to eat, rather than eat to live, then you are essentially interested in experience, in taste, and in pleasure. This leads to, at some level, happiness (if you can quantify such a thing). Without adding Beer into that equation, you’re missing out on a part of that circle. Not only that, but you’re missing out on experience that can (shock, horror!) enhance the beer and the food in a reciprocal way.

The rise of interest in (not the same as sales, before people point out pub closures and such) Real Ale, Craft Beer, or whatever you want to call it, in the last ten years or so is, in my opinion, down to a couple of things. Firstly, I want to give Bloggers a pat on the back. When I started blogging in 2007, there were only a handful of us. Now, there are a handful of us in Leeds alone, and hundreds of great sites out there espousing beer, food, and all inbetween.  CAMRA hold beer and food nights as parts of their AGM and help the cause by publishing the likes of Fiona and Will Becket’s An Appetite for Ale and featuring food in their Real Ale guides. Secondly, the rise of what I call ‘The Farmer’s Market crowd’  – conscientious people with a little disposable income that see the link between provenance, quality and taste. Drinking local beer piggybacks this explosion.

When you buy meat, fish, bread, cheese and vegetables from a trusted source (be that a farmer’s market, a local Butcher or Grocer, or online retailer), you’re putting your money where your mouth is, and making a lifestyle decision. You’re saying ‘ I want something real; and I want to help those who make it happen to keep on doing what they do’.

Supporting Brewing – whether it be a bottle from the supermarket or a pint at a pub –  is pretty much the same. Our beer industry is ruled by the few, but contributed to by the hundreds. By making a choice at the bar to invest your money locally and/or independently, you’re doing the same thing. It’s a win-win, and that’s before you even start factoring in taste. The fact that the beer in your hand should (but not always, granted) taste pretty good is simply a bonus. A little Kinder Egg treat, if you will.

We’ve spoken at length about the barriers that stop people choosing Real Ale as their drink of choice, from availability to prehistoric branding turning you away. So why not take that down another barrier and let people make up their own minds; by suggesting a certain beer with a meal that they like. Dave likes food, but isn’t so sure about beer. Dave likes Chocolate Cake. Why not try a Chocolate Stout the next time he has a slice of brownie – just to see. After all; it’s sort of similar. Dave tries. Likes. Chooses (and this is the important part) a Stout on his next pub outing. Likes it. Tries another. Then moves onto another beer from the same brewer – a Pale Ale, this time. The rest is history. A Real Ale drinker is born.

As for it being ‘Poncey’ or ‘A New-Fangled, Americanised concept’  – get a grip. Tried a Ploughman’s in a pub? One of the most sublime beer and food experiences out there, and as old as the hills. ‘Pies and a Pint’ at a beer festival or Bonfire night? A packet of Salt and Vinegar crisps with your IPA? You get my point. Beer and Food is part of our heritage – and always has been. You don’t have to be sequestered in your kitchen, with a range of arcane bottles lined up, a plate of crackers and a notebook and pen.

This is the important thing. We may not all be wizards in the Kitchen. Fair point. But by educating people about another little corner of Beer, you can get more people on our side. True, it can be a very home-centric way to drink beer; but from those acorns spring new beer drinkers. With the help of Breweries, more and more pubs and restaurants are educating drinkers in food, and foodies about beer. By turn, supporting Local business, including Brewing. Is this not what we want? Less people do visit the pub these days, true, but that’s not to do with someone seeing what Mussels with WitBier taste like at home.

I know that the majority of brewers feel the same way. There’s no reason to suggest that people who enjoy beer and food don’t support pubs – Jesus, try to keep us out of pubs! Enjoy your beer. Enjoy your food. There’s no reason to fence them off from each other. If you are – well, that’s a real shame, because you’re missing out.


About leighgoodstuff

Blog: I'm Leigh Linley; born and bred in Leeds, and writing about it since 2005. TGS exists solely to highlight the great beers that are out there; brewed with passion by Craft Brewers around the World. I also edit the 'Tavern Tales' section of Culture Vulture, which looks at Pubs and Pub Life rather than the beer in the glass.

Posted on 31/08/2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Well said! Those comments on Pete’s blog typify an internet idiot trying to rile others because they are a sad, grumpy little person who probably has a brutally ugly wife so he’d rather drink 12 pints in the pub before passing out on the sofa.

    I think that the route to beer growing more in the public consciousness will be to food. That’s what happened with wine 30 years ago. Food gives a simple point of reference which makes beer more approachable – your chocolate example is perfect. You like chocolate brownie, you know what it tastes like, but a dark beer? Linking it to food makes it approachable and easier to understand.

    More than anything it’s just a natural approach. We eat, we drink; put them together. If it doesn’t work as a match, so what; eat the food and then drink the beer. If it does work then brilliant! It’s nothing more than a fun and different approach.

    Beer and food rocks and the very best pairings are the simplest ones, nothing fancy and poncy.

  2. Leigh as great post mate and one I can really identify with as largely I’ve experienced it over the last year or so.

    First off you are bang on about beer and wine being separate entities, I’ve been on a wine & food evening and it was fabulous, both wine and food enhancing each other. I’ve yet to experience a proper organised beer/food matching event but can’t wait to do so as clearly there are benefits. But they should not be seen as competition, more an alternative.

    I also recognise the “Farmers Market Crowd”, I am one and travel quite a distance most months to get to try top quality new & interesting food and drinks. That has led me to relationships with a local artisan deli where they now stock food and beer that I have requested or recommended. Beers from Buxton Brewery being the most recent example. Bonus!

    In particular though, the “Dave likes food” paragraph really struck a chord and is so true.
    I thought I knew about beer until one day my wife bought me a book suggesting the top 100 Belgian beers and I set about finding them. One discovery led to another and soon I was looking for and tasting beers from all over the world. As I tasted, so did the wife along the way, having a sip of this and a glass of that, until now I find myself buying her things like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Magic Rock Rapture instead of a bottle of Thatchers or Becks…

    It’s all about getting people to try new things, which in turn leads to another and another, if that means getting folks round my kitchen table to try some IPA’s with a curry for example, then I’m all for it.



  3. Cheers for the support Leigh – great to see such passion!

    I’m gradually growing the thick skin you need to survive with a (relatively) high profile blog and Brian’s comments just saddened me rather than riling me.

    For me, flavour, cooking, experimentation, the pleasures of the table in all their forms, are one of life’s greatest pleasures. As Tim Hayward said to me once, “We’ve all got to eat. If you don’t eat, you die. So you might as well eat well.”

    Pretty much all of us who blog about beer (and food) agree. And it’s why, while I’m passionate about beer, I also drink a great deal of wine, am starting to write a good deal about cider and perry, and also love whisky, Madeira and sherry.

    Some people just aren’t like that. They’re simply not that interested in flavour. Poor sods. I feel sorry for them more than anything. Just think about what they’re missing.

    And then there are people like Brian, who are so crippled by convention, by what you’re ‘supposed’ to do if you’re a certain kind of person, that anything experimental or unusual or novel is ‘poncey’ or ‘pretentious’. They’re crippled by self-doubt and lack of confidence, terrified of standing apart from the crowd. They live very, very unhappy lives.

    Next time I experience a flavour explosion as beer meets cheese and the two enhance each other to the point where there are things in there that didn’t – couldn’t – exist before, as the synapses flare and the warm glow spreads through my body and makes me feel deliriously happy to be alive right then, right there, at that very moment, I shall spare a thought for the Brian’s of the world. And I shall laugh.

  4. I don’t drink beer to live, I live to drink beer, and in most cases literally! Most of the time I’ll choose food in correspondence to what beers I have in the fridge and I love it!

  5. There does seem to be an ever lingering inverted snobbery some people apply to beer. It is very, very sad indeed. To say that food and beer matching “is a load of bollocks” only damages the creditability of the person who states such a thing.

    Ann doesn’t like beer very much, unless it’s a fruit beer, some Belgian beers and good barley wines and very strong oak aged stouts. However, she does enjoy drinking beers she otherwise wouldn’t like when they are well matched with food.

  6. Blimey. Marvellous post, Leigh. When anyone says “food and beer matching is bollocks” to us in future, we’ll link to this.

  7. In our deli we have had both wine and beer pairing nights. The beer nights have actually converted some wine drinkers into trying other beers. Also some beer drinkers have widened their palates to other styles. For example we had a Dutch Trappiste Quadrupel, which a number of people found quite intense, however when they tried it with Dutch blueberry pancakes, the balancing flavours offered a much more palatable experience. I’m now just as likely to drink an Imperial Russian Stout with blue cheese, rather than the typical Port or red wine.
    If some people find it offensive and poncey, so be it, change is scarey and best to be avoided by them. They should stick to Boddingtons extra cold and steer away from the nuts while drinking it.

  8. This and Mark’s post the other day about different types of matches is all anyone needs to be well on their way in beer with food.

  9. Excellent post, agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments. And I do like chocolate cake. And stout. And pale ale and pubs too.

  10. To change the topic slightly, to follow on from Phil, what is the best drink to pair with a curry? Personally I think zesty wheat beers and aromatic Gewurtzraminers.

    • Hi Source – Curry’s a difficult one because of the range of flavours and styles involved. I personally like the old classic – cooling pales with the spicier curries. I actually don’t attest to the ‘IPA with Curry thing’ – I think the intense hops can sometimes mess with the spices of the curry. For an interesting spin, try Stouts or slightly darker beers with tomato-based curries such as Rogan Josh – the deep, rich flavours really compliment those types of sauces.

  11. Well said Leigh, these people are pulling against the tide just for the sake of it. How could two sensory delights such as beer & food, two of the joys of life, not be a match made in heaven?! Keep up the sterling work, Sir!

  12. Sorry, the term curry was too broad. My favourite style, Thai, Seychelle, Goan etc. with a sharp aromatic style; this works well with sweeter more aromatic drinks. A stronger stout could also work with these styles. For a tomato based curry, I’d tend towards cider, preferably dry. This could balance the thick style of the sauce.

    • Cider with the tomato based sauces is an interesting concept, keen see the two working (acidity) – also would concur re: the sweetness of Thai/Goan curries. Keep exploring!

  13. Beer and food pairing just isn’t my thing, though the lovely Lisa seems to be getting into it. I don’t often drink with meals at all. I tend to scoff my food in a matter of minutes which leaves all the more time for drinking. Now more civilised people may linger over their food with a carefully matched beer but I don’t think it’s for me.

  14. Well said Leigh. Another great post and judged by the amount of comment, one that has certainly struck a chord.

    Food and Beer are such perfect partners. Who cant love the combination of Beer with Cheese?

    Hope to see you at the Ilkley Literature Festival on 7th October when Melissa Cole the beer writer for the Evening Standard will be talking about her latest book on beer and Stephanie Moon one of the chefs from Rudding Park in Harrogate demonstrates food and beer pairings.

  15. A great post, Leigh.

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