British Food & Beer Pairing Ideas


By Dante Fletcher

British Beer & Food Pairing

I was just talking to a friend of mine about some of our favorite beer styles and the subject turned to Britain.

Our conversation shifted through some of the U.K.’s most traditional styles.  Milds and Extra Special Bitter (ESB’s) , then up to IPA’s and we finally wound our way down to Porters and Stouts. Working our way through the styles we bounced back and forth with lists of adjectives describing flavors, colors, and aromas – bisquity, coffee, caramel …copper, sunshine, boot leather brown…floral, spice, herbal …  the conversation then shifted again this time away from beer and onto food.

As we chatted about our favorite bites from the United Kingdom, we both lamented that you just don’t see much of them on “this side of the pond”.

The classics - Bangers & Mash, Cottage Pie, Fish & Chips and England’s national dish – Chicken Tikka Masala. The next logical challenge was now laid out right before us, we needed to pair these flavors with the beers we just highlighted.  While I was certain that my choices were on point, Roger was doing his best to convince me that he was right. A decision was made, we would share our pairings choices with the rest of our friends and have them decide.

If there is something I have learned about having a successful event…you never go timidly into it.

If you’re going to go, go all in!

Since we seem to have figured out a lineup of the players, how about the game?

English Pub Night is the game to play here.

Starting with the invite.

How about an invitation in the style of a summons from Buckingham Palace?

Easy enough to find a template if you do a little searching online. A bit of cut and paste and boom of the invites were set to go out.

Who wouldn’t want an invitation addressed to Sir Barclay Perkin’s and Co. directly from desk at Buckingham Palace for a night of food and drink?

Onto the entertainment.

We talked about going “Old School” ;  I mean really Old School…like say 1450.

We both noticed that Sea Shanty’s are coming back around and are always good for a sing along. I’ve seen dozens of playlists out there.  Maybe you’ll find a new favorite?  We shifted course and thought maybe we don’t want to go “that old”. How about a bit of The British Invasion 1964 – 1966 – The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who?  Maybe something with a bit more grit for Brit’s – The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Jam. Roger thought maybe the crew would feel like movin’ shakin and skankin. We could throw on some Ska – The Specials, Ska-tilites, The Beat. After much debate we finally decided to start with a solid line up from the Mid -Invasion (66’) and move forward from there.

Entertainment was settled, now onto the pairing.

Ideally when pairing beer with food you are hoping for one of the three C’s - Contrast, Complement or Cleanse.

Our first choice was for a contrast to the dish.

Hoping that the ideal choice would bring a counterbalance to the palate. My choice was to put the salty, heavy, earthy notes of Bangers & Mash to be set up against warm sweetness of an English Best Bitter (ESB). The caramel notes on that first sip blended into a medium level of bitterness and finished with fruit esters that flowed into a moderate hop flavor that ended with a nice dry finish. The ABV usually runs 3.5 – 5.0 % so you can easily have a couple without fear of ending your evening too soon.

Roger took a different route. He chose an English Mild. He said that the richness of the nutty, caramel notes would carry farther and present a true “salty/sweet” cycle in the palate. Also, with a lower ABV – 3.0 – 4.0% you could knock back a couple and still have your wits about you as you step up for another round of darts.

 Next we moved onto a beer to complement a Cottage Pie.

Hoping for a beer to bring some harmony to the palate I went with a Porter. The warm, rich, coffee notes seemed to accent the flavors in the pie. The herbs and spices blended easily with the rich gravy. You can sense just enough bitterness from the roasted malts to bring out some of the bitter notes of coffee and a moderate hop flavor bringing it to a tidy finish. The ABV usually runs 5.0 +% not too drying on the mouth either.

Roger went for a close second.  For his compliment to the Cottage Pie he stepped up to a Stout. He argued that the bigger notes of licorice and molasses would bump up the flavors in the pie. The Stout brought out a richer flavor from the meat and black pepper combination. The higher AVB of 6.5% cut through the fat and turned up the subtle notes of the herbs and left mostly a mild spice as the final taste.

Moving to the final round – The cleanse. We both picked the same style, an IPA. We both agreed that something bold would be needed to clear the palate of the Chicken Tikka Masala’s rich and spicy sauce. 

While I chose to stick with the U.K. version, Roger went with the U.S. version. I think he was cheating, but the judges allowed it.

My U.K IPA delivered a bit of fruit on the nose from the yeast, hop profile then pushed it toward an earthy, floral, herbal finish. Set at a nice ABV of 6.5%, it brought enough alcohol to cleanse the palate of the rich sauce that wanted to hold the heat and coat the mouth.

Roger went with a big West Coast IPA from the U.S. It had a bold citrus nose and dank yet fruity finish. The IPA’s sharp hop presence and higher alcohol (7.0% ABV) cut through the richness of the Tikka Masala and cleared my mouth, while bringing a cooling sensation that had me prepping for the next bite.

Now don’t think we forgotten about dessert.

We knew the dessert would be a sampling of three Sticky Toffee Puddings, provided by several of our guest.  

Since I wanted to be careful to pair a beer that was in line with the sweetness of the dessert and not push it over the top. I went with an English Brown. Not the dry, North England version but the slightly sweeter version from the South. I was hoping to capture some of the rich caramel notes and a bit of the spice with just enough alcohol (5.5% ABV) to rinse the mouth and palate that would prep you for another bite.

Roger went all in again with an English Barley Wine.

He said he wanted the heavy malt character that lead with honey and toffee flavors to be just a bit bigger than the pudding. The alcohol content was nothing to joke about at (9.5% ABV). The toffee notes blended with the heavy malt character and matched nicely against the spice and caramel of the pudding.  

All in all, a good time was had. I would tell you who won the challenge, but maybe its better if I let you guess for yourself.


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