Fish 'n' sips: Pairing beer and cider with pub grub

Susanna Forbes

23 February 2017

Want to know which beer and cider styles work best with classic British pub food? Susanna Forbes and team put a range to the test


With interest in beer and cider continuing to grow, wine is no longer the default for those tucking into grub in the pub. But just because it’s not Michelin-starred fancy food, doesn’t mean it’s any easier to find the perfect pairing. Classic pub dishes often have rich layers of different flavours, not to mention chilli and creamy sauces to contend with.

So which types of beer and cider work best? We armed ourselves with 10 different styles and headed to The Minories in London to find out.

With its vibrant mix of tourists and city-folk, The Minories serves hundreds of meals every day. Its menu is a tried and tested blend of pub favourites – perfect to find out which drinks go best with which food. So, 50+ matches later, here’s our verdict...

How it works
We selected seven different styles of beer and three very different ciders. All 10 were pitted against five classic pub dishes, and the food match rated out of 20. Scores were later adjusted to give a value out of 100.

Panel

Mitch Adams, Borough Wines & Beers; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe;
Susanna Forbes, DrinkBritain; Paul McGilloway,
The Minories; Shane McNamara, The Beer Academy;
Alex Stevenson, Tate Modern


Fish & Chips
Cod in rich beer batter, served with a lemon wedge and tartare sauce

Reach for: Lager, bitter, wheat. While Pilsner Urquell came out top, London Pride was the one that surprised, achieving top scores for half the panel. To avoid overpowering the dish, don’t overdo the hops or malt. Rather look for effervescence to cut through the oily texture, a citrus note to match the squeezed lemon or tartare sauce, and either fruit or malt sweetness to balance the rich fish.

81 Pilsner Urquell, 4.4%, lager
‘The spice from the Saaz hops and lingering bitterness complements the fish and saltiness of the dish,’ SM. ‘An effervescent and tactile match,’ AS.

71 Fuller’s, London Pride, 4.7%, bitter
‘The caramel malt notes work well, especially with the tartare,’ MA. ‘A classic match. Both elements shine through. Harmonious,’ CC.

69 Paulaner, Hefe-Weissbier, 5.5%, wheat
‘The citrus notes cut through the oily texture of the fish, while the herbal notes partner well with the tartare sauce,’ AS. ‘The beer accentuates
the freshness,’ SM.

68 Henry Westons, Vintage Medium Sweet, 4.5%, medium sweet cider
‘The cider’s sweetness balanced the sweetness in the fish, while the sparkle cut through the batter,’ SF. ‘The cider adds a nice saltiness to the dish,’ MA.

68 Aspall, Organic Cyder, 7%, medium dry dessert
‘The texture, acidity and sparkle combine to handle the batter well, while the apple tang pairs with the cod,’ SF.


Macaroni Cheese
Partnered with garlic bread, this was crafted with a mix of mozzarella and Cheddar

Reach for: Amber, medium-dry bittersweet cider, wheat. A trickier beast to match than its simple ingredients might suggest. Goose Island failed to appear on the podium, despite being a favourite with half the panel, showing how hoppy IPAs can divide opinions. While Meantime Porter was too rich for the task; another dark beer might have fared better.

80 Brooklyn Lager, 5.2%, amber
‘Caramelisation and cheese sauce – banging!’ MA. ‘The mac ‘n’ cheese provides a platform for the beer to show its hops, while the beer cuts through the fat of the cheese,’ SM.

75 Sheppy’s Vintage Reserve 2015, 7.4%, medium-dry bittersweet
‘The dry astringency matches well with the fatty fullness of mac ‘n’ cheese. Two strong flavours work well together,’ SM. ‘The Sheppy’s amplifies the flavours of the mac ‘n’ cheese,’ SF.

72 Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier, 5.5%, wheat
‘The creaminess of the dish works well. An unusual, but quite good match,’ CC. ‘The strong cheese flavour brought out the citrus flavours in the beer,’ PM.

71 Fuller’s, London Pride, 4.7%, bitter
‘Both the strong cheese flavour of the dish and the hoppy flavours of the beer emerged,’ PM. ‘A nice savoury match. The Fuller’s enhances the saltiness of the dish,’ CC.


Thai Green Chicken Curry
Fragrant and with medium heat, plus notes of lemongrass, coriander and galangal

Reach for: Medium-sweet cider, pale ale, wheat. Arguably the most difficult dish to match on paper, this provided the tasting’s highest food-match score and two clangers. Hoppy beers proved the dividers, while the Meantime Porter proved a surprise hit for Adams.

86 Henry Westons, Vintage Medium Sweet, 4.5%, medium-sweet cider ‘20/20! The sweet notes complement the spicy dish and its sweet coconut notes,’ SM. ‘The lemongrass and the apple work really well, while the farmhouse hints and the aromatics of the dish also complement,’ AS.

77 Sharp’s, Atlantic Pale Ale, 4.5%, pale ale
‘Sweetness from crystal malt sits nicely with spice. Hops add dimension,’ SM. ‘The citrus notes of the hops match the lemongrass,’ MA.

76 Paulaner, Hefe-Weissbier, 5.5%, wheat
‘A surprise! The fruity notes of the Paulaner paired well with the coconut and sweetness of the dish, while the beer’s light body and low bitterness dealt well with the spice,’ SM. ‘The herbal, spicy notes work well with the dish,’ AS.

70 Brooklyn Lager, 5.2%, amber
‘Harmonious, with the floral notes and sweetness of the beer playing well with the spice,’ CC. ‘The orange hop character goes well with the lemongrass sweetness,’ MA.


Classic beefburger
Served in a brioche bun with beef tomato and pickled red onion

Reach for: Amber, medium-dry bittersweet cider, dark. Beers need a discernible malt backbone to make the most of the caramelised flavours produced by the Maillard reaction. In ciders, some tannic astringency is required as well as fruit sweetness. Adams identified the Burger Porter Paradox: while the match was great in small bites, it would be too rich for a whole burger and a pint. Cue the slider!

80 Brooklyn Lager, 5.2%, amber
‘The match of bitterness and body in this beer sits well with a full and flavoursome burger,’ SM. ‘The burger enhances the floral note in the Brooklyn. The meat and sweet maltiness is a great match,’ CC.

76 Sheppy’s Vintage Reserve 2015, 7.4%, medium-dry bittersweet
‘The tannins matched the tannins. The sweet bun matched the sweet cider. Maillard notes and farmhouse hints made for a savoury match, while the cider’s acidity balanced the tomato,’ AS. ‘“Just right,” said Goldilocks,’ MA.

75 Meantime, London Porter, 6.5%, dark
‘The bitterness in the beer works well with this dish,’ CC. ‘The strong chocolate flavour brings through the beef flavour and the red onion taste,’ PM.

74 Goose Island, Goose IPA, 5.9%, IPA
‘The depth of the beer brings out the red onion and mustard flavour in the dish,’ PM. ‘A substantial, satisfying match, although the beer does emerge victorious,’ CC.


Chicken, leek and brie pie
Chicken breast and buttered leeks in a creamy Cheddar sauce with melted brie, with a puff pastry lid, served with gravy

Reach for: Medium-dry dessert cider, bitter, amber. Layered as this is with richness – even the pastry takes some matching – this dish needs both good sparkle, but also good acidity, to cut through, which is where the ciders came in. With beer, look for a malty base to square up to the depth of the dish, plus some complementary notes.

82 Aspall, Organic Cyder, 7%, medium-dry dessert
‘The acidity and the fizz married everything together,’ MA. ‘The cider’s big acidity works perfectly here to both cut through and complement the creaminess, the cheese and the pastry,’ CC.

75 Fuller’s, London Pride, 4.7%, bitter
‘Well matched for body and flavour. A pure complement,’ SM. ‘With a good, fresh finish, this is a satisfying match,’ CC. ‘The crispy pastry and gravy enhanced each other,’ PM.

74 Brooklyn Lager, 5.2%, amber
‘There’s a balance of bitterness with the pie and the hops, while citrus notes in the beer match those in the leeks,’ AS. ‘The beer’s profile went well with the brie,’ PM.


The Style Police
Ello ello ello, what’s all this then? Trying to match an inappropriate level of bitterness with mildly carbonised food? I think you’d better come along with me to the station, sonny…

Lager, inc Pilsner: A winner with the fish and chips, its balanced bitterness proved versatile.
Pilsner Urquell, 4.4%, POA/33clx50cl, AsahiUK, 01483 718000

Pale ale: An American-style pale ale will suit different dishes to Sharp’s herbal/floral offering.
Sharp’s Atlantic Pale Ale, 4.5%, POA/12x50cl/cask, Sharp’s, 01208 862121

Bitter: Good with pub classics: cheese, fried food, burgers.
London Pride, 4.7%, £12.50/8x50cl bottles; £90/40 cask; £120/50l keg, Fuller’s, 020 8996 2000

Amber: A bit of everything: fizz, hoppiness and bitterness.
Brooklyn Lager, 5.2%, POA/24x35.5cl;12x35.5cl can; 30l keg, Carlsberg Crafted, 0845 782 0820

Wheat: Matched salty (fish and chips), umami (beefburger) and spicy (green curry). Versatile.
Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier, 5.5%, £38.95/20x50cl; £23.82/24x33cl; £83.68/30l kegs, Cave Direct, see the website cavedirect.com for regional contacts

IPA: Big and complex. This can take on similarly densely-flavoured foods.
Goose IPA, 5.9%, POA/12x35.5cl, AB InBev, 0870 169 6969

Dark, inc stout/porter:
Good with winter dishes. Complex examples sit well with fragrant dishes too.
Meantime London Porter, 6.5%, POA/6x75cl, Meantime, 020 8293 1111

Medium-sweet cider: Bittersweet backbone, so good for creamy sauces. But watch sweetness levels.
Henry Westons Vintage Medium Sweet, 4.5%, £20.73/12x50cl, Westons Cider, 0800 028 4922

Medium-dry cider (mainly dessert apples): Acidity and tang cuts through creamy, rich sauces.
Aspall Organic Cyder, 7%, POA/12x50cl, Molson Coors, 0845 600 0888; Nectar Imports, 01728 860510

Medium-dry cider (mainly bittersweet apples): Tactile dryness that can stand up to strong pub dishes. Good with protein, fatty dishes and umami.
Sheppy’s Vintage Reserve 2015, 7.4%, £17/12x50cl, Blakemore Fine Foods, 01902 366066; Boutique Drinks, 01753 890361; Cave Direct, see cavedirect.com for regional contacts; Molson Coors, 0845 600 0888


Panel comments

Mitch Adams, Borough Wines & Beers
‘The biggest learning was how much of a difference the condiments and sauces make to a pairing. And, as Brooklyn Brewery’s Rachael Weseloh said to me about matching: “It’s just as useful, as much fun and as interesting to know what doesn’t work as what does.”’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘Traditional English ale styles proved to be most versatile. The more extreme styles were often responsible for the really stand-out matches, but they could fail to match a dish just as easily.’

Susanna Forbes, DrinkBritain
‘Carbonation and bitterness levels were just as important as the flavours. The versatility of the amber, wheat and bitter styles was impressive, particularly with rich dishes.’

Paul McGilloway, The Minories
‘Testing such a variety of combinations brought a surprising range of tastes and flavours. An enjoyable experience, providing a wealth of valuable knowledge.’

Shane McNamara, The Beer Academy
‘If you’re undertaking this kind of tasting, don’t forget when and where it is consumed – a pub! The sights and sounds of your pub interplay with the enjoyment of the drinks and food you provide.’

Alex Stevenson, Tate Modern
‘The cider was most surprising. There are so many styles with different qualities that make it a very versatile partner for food, though you need to be careful of the sweetness level.’

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