You're a specialist off-licence, space is at a premium and most of your customers wouldn't dream of drinking a beer with their dinner instead of wine - so is it really worth promoting beer
as a compliment to food? And if it is, how can you do it?
Zak Avery, of Beer Ritz in Leeds, sums up the dilemma. "The irony is that the people best placed to do something useful, like the supermarkets, are not really selling to the people who are interested in that sort of thing - those sort of people come into specialist beer retailers like us, and we don't really have the facilities and resources to do what we would like to do in beer and food matching," he says.
Without the space for the
he wishes he could put in, Avery's food
range is limited to snacks and he is only able to push beer and food by telling customers about it himself.
Some retailers are finding interesting ways to promote beer and food. Chris Brown, of beer specialist Bitter Virtue in Southampton, puts food recommendations on tasting notes, sells recipe books by Michael Jackson and Garrett Oliver, and keeps
copies of the books to show customers in-store. He publishes a monthly newsletter which usually includes a beer recipe he has created.
He says: "There is quite a bit of interest, especially from ladies. People come in and say, this is what I'm having for lunch tomorrow, what beer should I have with it . It has certainly become more and more noticeable that people are asking, and it is quite pleasing because it certainly wasn't the case
ten years ago."
Gareth Jones, of Horsham's Beer Essentials, doesn't have room for shelf barkers or tasting notes in his tiny shop, but does recommend food matches to customers. He organises a local beer festival, and last year matched a range of beers to different types of sausage.
"Price is not a problem with selling beers that are food friendly," says Richard Genders, of the Bottle Stop in Cheadle, Cheshire. "We do get quite a lot of people in looking for beers, either for cooking a recipe they have picked up or that ha s been featured on one of the many TV chef programmes.
"Kwak is a delightful beer. It comes in a 75cl bottle with a Champagne cork. If you are at a table and the bottle is sitting on the table that can get the mood going
- it presents well. The other one which we've sold surprisingly well is Deus, the Champagne beer. We've just sold out.
At £14 a bottle
that really shows you that you can sell beers through a higher price range."
Genders is one of a number of retailers who say brewers could do more to make their beers food friendly, whether by changing the design to make bottles more attractive on a dinner table, or by putting more information about flavours and food matches on back labels. "If they are all nicely laid out you can get people in who will browse and
are happy to read the label. But they [the labels] are a bit of a minority:
a lot of the m are a bit minimalistic and some of them are absolutely awful," he says.
Even shops that do not produce much in the way of beer and food literature can easily sell well-labelled beer for food, such as Greene King's Beer To Dine For and Sharp's Brewery's Chalky's Bite, created by chef Rick Stein specifically to go with seafood.
In Waitrose, beer regularly features as an ingredient and a food match in recipe cards and in-store magazines, BWS staff are trained in beer and food matching, gondola-end displays match beers with foods, and during its British beer showcase last October booklets encouraged customers to try different British beers with food.
Beer buyer Steve Wallace says: "I feel that in these times of encouraging responsible drinking, suppliers should be trying to encourage customers to enjoy beer with food, and basically just to savour and enjoy good quality beers with or without food. There's so much space on large packs of beer that could be used for recipe and accompaniment suggestions and ideas, the same goes for the use of neck collars on single bottles - such an under used opportunity to educate customers!"
Booths beer, lager and cider buyer Dave Smith says: "The industry has got to make the offering more sexy. If you are having a nice dinner party, the last thing you want to do is put a brown bottle on your table."
Smith also wants to see more beer and food matches being established in restaurants and then moving into the off-trade. "In Italian restaurants you can have Peroni, and if you go into an Indian you will have Kingfisher or whatever, but if you go into an English restaurant you are struggling for a recommendation," he says. "Sometimes it would be better if some of the brands started originating from restaurants, and people started seeing them there and getting them with food as a recommendation."
Over the last 12 months Smith has done a lot to push beer and food. For St George's Day, Booths created an own-label sausage made with beer; full tasting notes for the whole beer range have been sent out to some 460,000 households; the supermarket runs country fairs where brewers can give food recommendations directly to customers ; and BWS staff are fully trained in beer and food matching, not least by being taken on trips to breweries to better understand the products they sell.
But beer and food has not caught on for everyone. Jim Helsby, of the York Beer & Wine Shop in York, says: "We don't get a lot of people asking, and I've a feeling this might be a difference between the north and the south of England. Up here I don't think people pursue all the ideas we see in the glossy magazines."
And for OLN's beer retailer of the year Alan Dunn, wine is for food and beer is for drinking. "I think they are barking up the wrong tree," he says. "If they try and make you sit down at a table with a nice bottle of
Bock it is not going to happen. I love my beer and I'm regarded as the beer man of Keswick because I organise the beer festival, but it is a bottle of wine with my meal every time."
Enter our competition and win a case of ale
Do you do anything to promote beer and food matching in your shop? Do you match beers to the snacks you stock, give customers beery recipes or keep local takeaway menus in store so you can recommend the best beers to drink with them?
OLN has teamed up with Greene King to reward the best and most innovative beer and food matching ideas. For your chance to win a case of Old Speckled Hen or Greene King IPA, send your best idea, how you put it into practice and what impact it had on your beer sales, to Christine Boggis, Off Licence News, Broadfield Park, Crawley, West Sussex RH11 9RT, by March 23, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to say which beer you'd prefer!
What is your favourite beer and food match?
"Really dark, rich Belgian chocolate with really dark, strong beer like Rochefort 10." Chris Brown, Bitter Virtue, Southampton
"Greenw ich Meantime IPA is a really great versatile beer to go with a lot of savoury food. It's got a really nice sweet and sour or sweet and bitter combination on the palate, and does that really nice thing of cleansing and priming the palate at the same time. As a beer it goes with a really wide range of savoury food, particularly strong British cheeses." Zak Avery, Beer Ritz, Leeds
"Andrew Hepworth's Pullman with a cheddar cheese doorstep really would take some beating, because you've got that hoppiness and that refreshing quality, and it is appetite sharpening as well - that is the good thing about hoppy beer, it makes you want to eat even more." Gareth Jones, Beer Essentials, Horsham
"I like Hop Back Typhoon beer which has got a hint of lemongrass in it, I think it is really nice with Chinese or spicy foods." Dave Smith, Booths
"I recently had a black lager from Japan, Asahi Dark, and that would go rather nicely with a really ripe Camembert." Jim Helsby, York Beer & Wine Shop, York.