Canadians love Canadian beer. Now, more than ever, what they prefer is local craft beers. Beers designed to make the most of quality ingredients and build complex flavours into every bottle, can or glass. Sophisticated brews that taste like home.
What a sommelier means to wine, a cicerone means to beer. The mark of a beer professional, this relatively new certification trains and tests individuals on a vast knowledge of beer, including proper service and pairings. But having a cicerone on staff is not practical for most operators.
Whether beer is on the menu, in the menu, or the menu is built around a special brew, using trusted national food brands and working with local breweries can raise the bar on your beer offering.
Beer in the food menu
“A major trend coming out of the pandemic is that people are gravitating more towards comfort food,” says Kirk Borchardt, Executive Chef Advisor for Ardent Mills. “Our diverse portfolio can help operators meet this trend AND bring beer to their menus in a variety of ways. Everything from making hamburger buns and pizza crusts using beer, to making a simple roux for thickening beer sauces or a quick beer bread.”
“A major trend coming out of the pandemic is that people are gravitating more towards comfort food.”Kirk Borchardt, Executive Chef Advisor for Ardent Mills
Bonus: beer is a natural go-to beverage to accompany hamburgers and pizza.
Ardent Mills offers innovative and nutritious grain-based solutions for Canadian foodservice operators. Borchardt does everything from product development (new pizza doughs) to recipe creation to fit today’s consumer trends and make it easier for commercial kitchens.
“We have a great recipe for beer-infused pizza crust. Infused crusts are a top Canadian foodservice pizza trend. For beers in bread and crusts, I find that wheat beers really bring out the flavours of the flour and reinforce that nice rounded subtle sweetness. Wheat beer-infused crusts go great with more delicate ingredients like caramelized onions and goat cheese. Heavier beers, like porters and stouts, stand up great to heavier ingredients like roasted mushrooms and cheddar cheese and bring a nice deep earthiness to the dough.”
Beer on the food menu
Beer and seafood make a delicious match.
Says High Liner Foodservice Corporate Chef Chef Philman George, “My goal is to place craveable seafood on your menu and help you generate more profit. High Liner is North American’s leader in beer-battered seafood. Just like craft beer, we rely on quality ingredients and experience to create unique seafood products.”
Guinness Beer Battered Cod Fillets and Guinness Beer Battered Shrimp are great examples of winning beer and seafood combos.
“Local craft beers pride themselves on brewing quality, unique beers with an attention to sourcing the finest ingredients,” says Chef Phil. “They often create seasonal varieties such as pumpkin spice ales or chocolate imperial stouts that flow nicely in the fall and winter months. These seasonal beer varieties and experimentation with intriguing ingredients mirrors up nicely with what restaurant chefs do with their menus and create opportunities for food and beer pairings.”
Pairing beer and your business
Jeff Macdonald is brewmaster for Black Donnelly’s Brewing Company, a small craft brewery located outside Mitchell, Ont. The six core beers are available in their 25-seat tap room, on-site retail store and at 10 local pubs and restaurants.
“Foodservice operators are bringing innovation to their menus through food flavours,” says Macdonald. “It makes sense to pair these dishes with beers that are just as complex.”
“Foodservice operators are bringing innovation to their menus through food flavours. It makes sense to pair these dishes with beers that are just as complex.”Jeff Macdonald, brewmaster for Black Donnelly’s Brewing Company
“Choosing the right craft beers for your business comes down to understanding your customers, their drink preferences and the type of food you offer. If your customers primarily choose lagers, adding stouts and porters isn’t the right direction. But offering a variety of local craft lagers will add depth (and a local twist) to your beer list.”
Pairing beer and food
Pairing beer with food, as it is with wine, can be an extremely complex, but the beer-food combo, when done right, can definitely hit diners’ sudsy sweet spot.
The simplest approach is using colour. As the colour of beer typically ranges from light to dark, so does the depth of food flavours it can be paired with. Yes, an oversimplification but a good place to start.
Macdonald explains, “Colour is just one factor. Let’s use an IPA for an example. A light hoppy IPA is a great pairing with spicy Mexican dishes. But that hop flavour, depending on the brew, can be piney or have mango/fruity undertones which would pair better with other foods.”
You can choose brews that balance the food or choose brews that emphasize the food.
Carbonation level, hop level, alcohol content, maltiness (amount and roast level) are all considerations.
“Take a dark ale. In general, a great choice to pair with steak. One with low carbonation would pair extremely well with steak. However, one with high carbonation wouldn’t work as well, as the extra ‘bubbles’ take the flavour of the steak away from the tastebuds too quickly.”
“That’s why beers with higher carbonation are a go-to for summer months as they are palate cleansers and have that refreshing finish.”
Use a personal connection with the local brewers to work through your menu for best pairing opportunities. Match their brew expertise with your menu expertise.
But Macdonald also cautions, “You can make suggestions, and more customers are looking for pairing suggestions, but it will always come down to the type of beer your customer enjoys.”
Build a beer community
Communicating with local brewers is key to the best pairings but also supports the community.
“Try the beer, build the relationship,” Macdonald suggests. “Show them who you are and find out who they are, what they are doing. Everyone is busy, but a five- or 10-minute conversation can start a mutually beneficial business arrangement.”
Even foodservice operators without a liquor license can pair up with local craft breweries to cross-promote one another. Food trucks on a rotating schedule are a boon to small breweries that offer sampling but don’t have a kitchen.
Adding suggested beer pairing for local brews on takeout menus and local brewers posting your takeout menu doubles up on exposure and spreading the word.
Like all the best things in life, beer and food are best when they’re shared. Start brewing your plan. Cheers!
Recipes made with beer:
Crispy Haddock Sandwiches
Beer-Infused Pizza Crust
Big Bob’s® Haddock Surf Board
About the Author
Cherie Thompson understands foodservice from field to fork. A B.Sc. in Agriculture and experience in quality control, food science, product development, recipe development/editing, customer service, and teaching as well as owning and operating two independent foodservice operations have given her a unique perspective on the food industry.