Visit any Belgian restaurant or bistro, and there's a good chance the menu will feature some good beer. It might not have anything too niche, but it will boast enough choice and quality to provide a sufficiently good pairing for anything that ends up on your plate.
Belgium isn't alone though. Beer is closely associated to food in a number of other countries of great brewing heritage, such as Germany and the Czech Republic.
The UK is a little different. Sure, there are traditional beer and food pairings over here too (think of a pint of bitter with a ploughman's lunch, yum!), but Britain's thriving new wave of craft beers is nevertheless struggling to make it to the restaurant’s table.
The result? An immense potential market for Britain's ever-growing craft beer industry that remains unexplored.
Contrast this with the United States, where quality beer has been around for only a few decades. There, beer is – perhaps surprisingly – more often associated with food. To understand why and what British breweries can learn from their oversees counterparts, we caught up with Adam Dulye, executive chef of the American Brewers Association (BA).
Why are the States ahead in associating beer with food?
I think [it's because this idea is] being driven by chefs and restaurants working the local aspect of marketing. Consumers in the US are looking for local and if they can try a local ingredient with a local beer that creates an experience for them. In today’s dining-out culture the experiential diner is the one looking to try pairings. Plus people travel all over the country to try breweries [so] restaurants have adopted larger craft beer programmes due to the demand of the consumer.
Why is the UK restaurant industry so reluctant to embrace beer with food?
In a lot of UK dining culture the majority of diners think that beer is for pubs, happy hours and weekends, while wine is for dinner. This is changing, it will just take each part of the world its own timeline to work on.
For me the culinary scene in London over the last five years has become one of the most diverse dining destinations in the world. More and more establishments are offering craft beer selections and this is only going to grow.
Has the BA played a role in fostering a beer and food culture in the US?
The BA is an influencer in this area, through publishing the Beer and Food Course, food pairing guidelines and recipes [for instance].
We've worked to create a language that takes words like hoppy and bitter and make them more consumer-friendly, such as citrusy, herbal and floral. By using language and words most people understand, guests are likely to try a craft beer with food.
How do American chefs see craft beer?
Right now, in the US restaurant scene if you want to be successful you have to be able to provide all options to the palate. If you have beer, wine, cocktail and food menus that all work together and complement each other, you have a better chance of being successful in the current climate.
Guests in the States are looking to put their trust into a restaurant, to take them on a brief escape into something they may not have tried. Having four strong menus to complement atmosphere, training, service and, of course, great food is the starting point right now.
What about sommeliers?
Even in the somm classes they teach some beer right now. Most sommeliers that I know and interact with learn about beer to the extent they can.
Again, this goes back to the experiential diner. You need to be able to provide a guest with all types of options, and having the knowledge to know how to pair more than wine with a menu is becoming more and more important to both restaurateurs and diners.
Do American beer communicators understand the needs and peculiarities of the restaurant industry?
One of the great growth opportunities for craft beer right now is in the restaurant. Brewers and chefs are very much alike in how they operate, from creativity to the willingness to share and exchange knowledge, product and vendors. So in some ways it has taken some of the beer communicators to see those relationships develop and then learn from them.
It’s a delicate balance and one topic that often comes up is price. Many see beer as the cheaper option [but] it no longer is. Beer is just as good if not better at delivering consistent per person check averages and profit to the bottom line as wine and spirits are. It takes time to build these relationships and one of the key parts is recognising that beer – as much as wine, cocktails and food – is part of the team that creates the experience.
What advice would you give to British brewers who want to promote their beers as suitable for food pairings?
First off go eat at the restaurants. Understand the food. Build a relationship. Invite restaurants and their staff out to your brewery. Being part of a story is a huge link to not only sales but also opening a door into a restaurant.