Matching beer with food: Will Beckett explains the concept of 'stickability'

Drinks: Beers

In his first column on the possibilities of matching beer with food Will Beckett addresses the issue of sticking

Let me tell you about two good food and beer matches. Firstly, quiche and Grimbergen and, secondly, duck and Kwak. They’re both Belgian and both great matches in terms of taste – for the first, I recommend an Alsace-style onion tart and, for the second, a honey-and-soy glaze on the duck, and your customers would probably enjoy both. But while I would never recommend that you try selling the first one, I think the second one is pure genius. Why? Because duck and Kwak has ‘stickability’ – if you haven’t noticed already, there’s a cheap pun in there – so it’s easy for your staff and customers to remember, it helps them engage with each other and it’s all a bit of fun.

For me, that’s the key to beer and food-matching in bars, pubs and restaurants. Unless you’re a very serious foodie destination that already attracts significant interest in your beer list, then you should start with stickability. The catch is that you can’t make it gimmicky or create matches just for the sake of it – your guests enjoy their food and drink, and if you can add a good story or surprising discovery in there and create a bit of banter, then that’s a job well done.

That’s what I’ll try and give you here, starting with cured, smoked and pickled foods. For starters, they usually show beer off at its best, both fat and salt being good matches for bitterness and carbonation, and there are some foods that wine can struggle to stand up to (and if you don’t believe me, try to find a wine match for pickled herring, which is brilliant with a Pilsner) – and there’s a story I can hang the whole thing on that might just make it stick…

Until midway through the 19th century, if you wanted to keep food for anything more than a few days, the chances are you would have cured, smoked or pickled it. We can skip over the science, but the basic principle is that salt and smoke extracts water and kills off bugs. Meanwhile, in the world of brewing, if you wanted to brew beer, then the chances were, unless you happened to be near some very cold caves, you would produce a beer intended to be brewed (and drunk) warm.

Then some bright spark invents refrigeration and everything changes – food no longer needs to be cured, smoked or pickled for anything other than flavour, and beer can be brewed, stored and drunk cold, which means everyone can start drinking lager. The history of preserving and brewing rests on keeping things cold.

Coincidentally, if your intention is to serve up a mixed plate of cured, smoked or pickled food, then you’ll need a beer that most simply matches everything on the plate, and this wonder beer produced by cold-brewing is the best answer for you – an ice-cold lager, preferably with a good amount of hop bitterness.

What follows is a few suggestions that should all be pretty easily achieved in even a pub without any kitchen staff. Hopefully, there’s a bit of stickability built into each. Some of the dishes and some of the beers are a bit left of centre, but you should be able to find the latter by calling James Clay & Sons ( and asking who your local specialist wholesaler is…

The Spanish Pig

I’m nuts about Spain, so I regularly eat a plate of Spanish ham with a Spanish lager. The stickability is obviously the easy national link, but you should always know a little bit more than the customer to be able to give them a story, so I’d go for Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, which has to come from one type of pig (Iberian) that has been fed exclusively on herbs and acorns, and is the best ham in the world, in my humble opinion. The flavour is delicate and very fatty, so I’d go for a crisp, clean lager such as Cruzcampo, which is brewed in Seville in Andalucia.

Cruzcampo, £19.95 for a case of 24

Turning Japanese

Tsukemono pickles are served at virtually every meal in Japan and eaten as snacks in between. There are endless varieties, made from fruit, vegetables, eggs and seeds. Fish and meat are also sometimes kept in miso or saké. For the more intrepid, start with some sushi with assorted tsukemono side dishes and wash the lot down with an Asahi Super Dry – a beer that was so popular when it was released in Japan in 1987 that Asahi Breweries had to place notices in newspapers apologising for not producing it fast enough.

Asahi Super Dry, £16.75 for a case of 24

The Ploughman’s

OK, so men who ploughed never ate this, but it’s an incredible lunch and simple to do. All you need is bread (thick), cheese (lots), pickles and, for our purposes, your favourite smoked or cured meat. Serve with Meantime’s London Porter, based on a recipe from 1750 and includes seven different malts. The beer has a roasted-malt bitterness that has a palate-cleansing quality that is brilliant with this combination of flavours.

Meantime’s London Porter, £15.41 for a case of 6

The Germans are Coming!

No one takes sausage more seriously that the Germans. There are so many different types in a German supermarket that it’s hard to know where to start. Bierwurst (which, doesn’t include beer but is simply good with it), blutwurst (blood sausage) and schinkenwurst (ham sausage) are among my favourites, but I recommend having weisswurst (veal sausage) and a hefeweizen beer such as Weihenstephaner – which the Germans insist on wolfing down before noon. Hefeweizen is a cloudy wheat beer that is usually sweet and fruity.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, £17.05 for a case of 12

The La-Di-Da

If you’re dead posh, then no doubt you regularly wake up to a breakfast of smoked salmon and champagne. For those of us a little less refined but who still fancy the occasional indulgence, how about smoked salmon and Deus? Deus is definitely not allowed to be called the champagne of beers, but still does a bloody good impression – the bottle is a dead ringer for Dom Pérignon and, after being brewed in Belgium, is whisked away to Epernay, the home of champagne, for refermentation. Serve the smoked salmon on good wholemeal bread with lemon juice and black pepper.

Deus, £60.20 for a case of 6

The Brooklyn Deli

A lot of the smoked food available in the States, and especially in the delis of New York, was brought over by European Jews escaping the pogroms of the 19th century. My suggestion for a celebration of these émigrés is a pastrami sandwich and a kosher beer. Take two long thin slices of rye or sourdough bread, some sliced pastrami, a few pickled dill cucumbers and a bit of Dijonnaise and serve with beer from the Schmaltz brewery on Long Island, which brews brilliant 100% kosher beers called He’brew (‘The Chosen Beer’). My favourite is Genesis Ale, a balance between a pale and amber ale, and brilliant with this sandwich.

He’brew Genesis Ale, £28.40 for a case of 24

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November / December 2009

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