From a light saison to a hoppy IPA and a rich stout, the many styles of beer on the market have catapulted, which is often accredited to the rise of craft beer.
This term, which has resonated with consumers, has been the driving force behind an abundance of new and exciting breweries and beers. While there are now 1,700 breweries in the UK, we’re also seeing an influx of beers from further afield that are targeting the exotic and global cuisines available in the UK. Furthermore, despite last year seeing launch after launch of zero-alcohol beers, Graham Richardson, general manager at Heathwick, describes the trend for higher ABV beers.
“There’s a greater understanding of higher ABV beers which is being driven by education, and the quality of higher ABV beers is better now than ever, which means people can buy one-third, a half or two-thirds of a pint, take their time and drink like a beer connoisseur,” he explains.
As a result of such market activity, the diverse aromas and flavours that are on offer in beer are being discovered and appreciated more and more. Even lager, the most consumed beer in the UK, can be recommended with specific foods thanks to its flavour profile and carbonation. Steve Lakin, national customer relationship manager at Innserve, recommends that lager is paired with dishes that have a high fat content due to its bubbles, and is also a “great partner for a cheese plate.” Could this help the lager category to grow as pale ales and pilsners have done?
“While the craft sector will undoubtedly be pushing out an array of weird and wacky brews this year, I actually think 2018 will be the year of quality lager,” predicts Krombacher’s Stephan Kofler. “Watch this space, but expect brands that master this style, ooze provenance and offer real flavour to have big years.”
A microscope on beer styles may be growing the category, but the many flavours that consumers are familiarising themselves with can make beer selection and menu creation even more difficult for operators.
Beer and paneer
Now more than ever, casual dining operators need to wise up to the opportunities that beer has within their establishments. Beer styles are demonstrating the different flavour profiles available, which means that beer is increasingly becoming studied in a similar way to wine – how the different ingredients make beer more bitter or sweet, and how it can be incorporated with different fruits and spices. Food-led venues can grab onto this and run with it.
“By making beer an integral part of the dining experience, and giving it the respect it deserves, operators can encourage consumers to try a new style or flavour that they might not normally go for,” suggests Sharp’s Brewery beer sommelier Ed Hughes.
The obvious way to do this is to suggest a beer to have with a certain dish on the food menu. Such recommendations appear to appeal to consumers, with half interested to know which beer matches their food, according to Carlsberg UK’s Consumer Insights Report. This increases to 67% of 26 to 35-year-olds. To do this well, operators may want to use the help of a beer sommelier (again, just like you would with wine).
“A sweet, malty beer will balance the heat of a curry, Vietnamese or Mexican dish,” says Lakin. “The light malt and floral and citrus flavours of a pale ale are a perfect partner for fish and chips, while the roast, chocolate characteristics of a traditional mild go well with beef, barbecue food or an earthy mushroom risotto. Smooth and creamy, a wheat beer goes perfectly with seafood pasta, fish, salads and Mexican dishes, whether the beer itself has hints of coriander, cloves or citrus fruit.”
It would appear that beer may also enable operators to experiment with pairings. Brewers Association executive chef Adam Dulye explains how the course of a meal can bring surprises.
“Most palates have been trained to build in intensity throughout a meal, but beer has the ability to break the mould and create new and exciting flavours. Take a rich braised beer dish paired with a big, bold, roasty imperial stout. History would guide us to follow that with something bigger or sweeter. However, a beer with delicate carbonation and flavour such as a wit or saison can cleanse the palate to end with a lighter note leaving the diner awake and alert rather than tired and over-worked.”
This can be seen as a benefit as it awakens guests to the possibilities of beer, but also an extra challenge for operators – how can they ensure they’re recommending the right beer for each dish? For a more in-depth look, the answer could be in beer and food tasting sessions, which Bundobust holds to show customers how Indian food and beer complement each other.
“The two go hand in hand,” says Bundobust co-founder Marko Husak. “The whole premise of Bundobust is the marriage of the two. Most of the beer styles we sell pair with the food really well such as wheat beers, saisons and pale ales.”
With such an emphasis on beer, you would expect the Leeds and Manchester-based restaurant to have a wide selection of beer in several different formats. And you’d be right. The Manchester site has 14 beers on keg, two casks and 70 bottled and canned – ranging from traditional producers to modern and local breweries. Going to such efforts to stock a range of beer and provide beer and food pairings is admirable, but operators must keep in mind the quality of the product to ensure their hard work is not being wasted.
People prioritising food when socialising is no doubt a positive for the casual dining industry, but the drink that accompanies their food can’t let the side down – especially when that drink is highlighted for complementing a specific dish. If food and beer go hand in hand as Husak suggests, they become almost like equals. One must be just as high quality as the other. However, the experience guests are advised they will get from a beer can be impossible if it is served poorly. Much rests on the quality of the serve.
“This starts from the beginning, making sure of correct cellar management and line maintenance, through to ensuring the correct pour in clean branded glassware,” stresses Morgenrot sales director Graham Archibald. “When selecting draught, operators need to ensure what they are serving is of the highest quality, so this means staff must know how to look after the beers, and how to pour and present them properly.”
For a long time, casual dining operators have been restricted to the number of draught beers they could offer, if at all, due to space issues. Cellars were almost exclusive to pubs, so the increase of bottled and canned beers was considered a godsend to restaurants. However, consumers have a high perception of draught beer – last year’s Casual Dining Magazine beer report with Cardinal showed that 41% of consumers believe that a restaurant serves really good beer if it has beer on draught, while 45% would be more likely to drink beer if draught was available. This implies that operators that want to have an emphasis on beer should have draught – and should see it pay off.
“The UK loves draught beer,” says Ross Blair, Heineken commercial director of Blade UK. “In fact, 92% of all beer volume sold in this country is draught. That being said, many casual dining outlets haven’t been able to sell draught beer due to a lack of space or resource, meaning a whopping 20,000 licensed food outlets can only offer bottled beer.”
To enable smaller venues to offer draught beer, new dispense systems have been designed and launched on the market, from more compact designs that fit a number of beers, to ones that sit right on the counter of the bar.
From what you serve to the way in which you serve it, innovation is creating the biggest opportunity for beer in restaurants, but you need to put in the effort to see the rewards. Invest in the key formats, give staff training on beer care and know which style goes best with which dish to ensure that your customers don’t leave with a sour taste in their mouth.