Bar Food Loves Beer — And Some Matches are Made in Heaven
Beer advocate, consultant, author and pairing expert Stephen Beaumont wrote his first book on brews in 1994. His chapter devoted to beer and food pairing was one of the first full-blown discussions on the subject by such an expert, which demonstrates just how sophomore this subject is in comparison to pairing food with wine.
Sure, most people in the industry have attended or even hosted a beer dinner at some point, but with beer pairing being a relatively new avenue of discussion, many of your patrons may still have reservations — and we aren’t talking about the ones that secure a table on a Friday night. But pairings can be educational and profitable, if done correctly.
Beaumont, who also started the blog www.worldofbeer.com and is co-owner of the venue beerbistro in Toronto, has 20 years of experience tasting and pairing beers. For him, the process of adding a beer-pairing component to even the simplest of bar food menus begins with education.
“I think customers enjoy seeing beer pairings on a menu,” he offers. “But you have to be aware of your client base first. In some places, it comes off too snobbish or over the top. As long as you know your client and you think they will enjoy suggestions, it’s a great addition to the menu.”
For the beerbistro menus, Beaumont (pictured at right) added an overall style suggestion below each dish, followed by a few suggested brands within that style category. Part of what makes this pattern so successful is that his beer selection is properly diversified.
“Customers understand the characteristics of beer, and they are expecting more than [just] seven lagers on your 10 taps,” he says. “I find the average bar-goer already knows the difference between a pilsner and an American lager. Pairing those with food is the next step. I see too many places with a great number of taps and over half will be the same exact beer with different names.”
But having variety means nothing if bartenders are uninformed. “I have lost track of the number of times a server has given me bad information on beer,” Beaumont says. “The manager and owner should know enough to pass that education on to the server. The average customer is getting smarter than the average server when it comes to beer and that’s never a situation you want in your restaurant or bar.”
Pairing Simple Bar Foods with Exquisite Beers
Known as “The Beer Chicks,” (from left) Hallie Beaune and Christina Perozzi’s joint nickname is more than a cute marketing idea. The ladies know their way around brews from hops to hefeweizen, and they recently co-authored The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. Within their book and on their blog www.thenakedpint.com, they cleverly pair beer with almost everything. We sought their expertise on pairing beer with items commonly found on most bar menus.
1. The Burger: “It’s one of the classic bar foods and is always popular, but you can mix it up with cheeses, sauces and vegetables and really dive into a great beer pairing,” Beaune says. “You don’t have to pair it with a mass-produced light lager. I recommend a nice bold, crisp IPA from a good craft brewery. It pairs well because the bitterness of an IPA cuts through the fat of a burger.”
2. Spicy Chicken Wings, Nachos or Jalapeño Poppers: “White ales and white beers, especially ones made with coriander and bitter orange peel, do a great job cutting through the spiciness instead of watering it down. It’s counteracting instead of diluting,” Perozzi says.
3. Salads: “I like to go two ways with salads,” Perozzi suggests. “One is wheat beers — German and Belgian work well. But if you are looking at something like a Waldorf or a Cobb salad, I like brown ales, because they go well with nuts and heavy cheese. For a Caesar, go with something peppery and dry, like a saison.”
4. A Quesadilla: “We’d go with something that could lift a cheesy quesadilla but still add some smokiness like a good singed, street-foody quesadilla should have. I like a smoked black lager,” says Perozzi.
5. A Hot dog with Kraut, Mustard and Pickles: “Something tart, earthy and dry like an Orval Trappist Ale, perfect with kraut and capers. Or you could go with a sour and bright Berliner Weisse style beer,” Beaune recommends.
Even the simplest of bar food menus offers ample opportunity for wowing your patrons with a new beer-and-food flavor experience, keeping them coming back for more. NCB
A Bit of Rhyme & Reason
Whether your spot is devoted to burgers and fries or your white tablecloths only see fois gras and duck confit, author and expert Stephen Beaumont says there are a few rules of thumb you can generally rely on when pairing.
1. Think of ales as red wines and lagers as whites.
2. Acidity in wine is akin to hoppiness in beer. If your dish pairs nicely with a more acidic wine, then look for a beer with more hops.
3. Find complementary or contrasting flavors when pairing; perhaps offer a pairing that uses complementary flavors and one of contrasting.
4. For desserts, keep the sweetness of beer greater than that of the dessert. However, chocolate is the exception; chocolate flavors are so harmonious with beer, you have some leeway on that category.