You don’t have to stick to wine when looking for a drink to have with a meal. Julie Hayes has a go at matching beer with food

BEFORE picking wines from all over the world for your Christmas festivities this year, why not consider the diversity of Britain’s native drink to accompany your food.

This is the message from a new generation of beer sommeliers, who have sprung out of the real ale revival that has swept the country, and not least Yorkshire.

Annabel Smith, a training manager for Cask Marque and the first woman to qualify as a beer sommelier, spreads the word to pubs too, to encourage them to learn more about the beers they serve and what foods they go with.

“We’re 20 years behind the wine industry in terms of education and knowledge,” she says. “Most top restaurants and hotels will have a wine sommelier, but we have never had beer sommeliers in this country, although they have had in Scandinavia, Scotland and Belgium for quite a long time.”

The principles of pairing beer with food are much the same as for wine, but the combinations in which brewers can use beer’s main ingredients – malted barley and hops, and other factors including different strains of yeast – can create any number of flavours.

“The beauty about it is 99 per cent of the population won’t be able to afford the best red wine in the world, but no beer is off limits for everyone,” Annabel says.

Craig Lee, managing director of Rudgate Brewery, arranged a tasting session with Steve Balcombe, owner of The Victoria pub in Cattal, to demonstrate some winning combinations.

Craig says: “People classically come in and ask to see the wine list, but they are starting to become more interested and there is now a percentage who do have beer with food.”

Because of this, its bottled beers now come with tasting notes. “It’s only very recently that you will read in the press and magazines that restaurants and pubs are marrying beers with food and they tend to be using continental lagers to go with food, but Yorkshire beers go very well with Yorkshire food,” says Steve.

To start

Home-made Thai style duck and vegetable spring roll, Cajun spiced chicken, cherry tomato and green pepper kebabs, and Chinese chicken wontons, served with sweet chilli dipping sauce and fresh lime Served with Rudgate’s Jorvik Blonde Jorvik Blonde is a pale beer specifically suited to lighter dishes, including chicken and starters.

A light easy-drinking beer, Jorvik Blonde is a good thirst quencher and its zesty taste makes it a refreshing accompaniment to spicy foods and works well with citrusy salad dressings. It also works well with fried foods as the carbonation helps lift grease from the palate.


Roasted chunk of fresh cod topped with Welsh rarebit, accompanied with fresh asparagus spears and char-seared king scallops.

Served with Rudgate’s Ruby Mild At first glance, this seems a counter intuitive choice. Wouldn’t you normally have white wine with fish?

But this combo worked. Ruby Mild’s dark appearance suggests a heavier brew than it is. The beer, which won the mild category at this year’s Great British Beer Festival and has previously been named Supreme Champion Beer of Britain, is smooth and soft and while the Jorvik Blonde would have been a good accompaniment, its richer roasted malt tones complemented the mustardy cheese in the rarebit.

The taste changed again following the scallops, caramelised on top, interacting with the sweetness to give a tasty bitter finish. The same effects can be achieved with cheese in the likes of a ploughman’s lunch or soft creamy sauces.

Red meat

Cutlet of venison, pheasant breast wrapped in streaky bacon, served with rosemary mash and wild mushroom and Battleaxe sauce.

Served with Rudgate’s Battle Axe Bitter This 4.8 per cent ABV chestnut brown best bitter packs much more of a punch to stand up to the strong rich taste of game and meaty mushrooms. Battle Axe’s crystal chocolate malts give it an old fashioned traditional full-mouth feel, slightly nutty which contends with well with the earthy rustic flavours of the meat.


White and dark chocolate marbled cheesecake, chocolate brownie, cappuccino crème brûlée, Eton mess, sticky toffee pudding and brandy snap filled with rocky road ice cream and raspberry sorbet. Served with Rudgate’s Chocolate Stout The full-bodied creamy chocolate stout could be a dessert in itself, but for even more indulgence, it works well with creamy desserts, and also with cheeses.

Its chocolate flavours, from real chocolate as well as roasted malts, aren’t just for dessert though. Try it too with chilli and heavy red meats.

Have a go...

The best advice, Annabel says, is just to pick three beers you’ve never had before, buy some cheese and pâté and you decide what it tastes like, whether you like it and what other kind of food it goes with.
“An English bitter like Theakstons Old Peculier, with its lovely salty mouth-feel and sweet biscuity flavours, is perfect with cheddar, just like you would usually eat it with oaty biscuits.”
But for brie, she says, try a lager.
“Brie is pastey and buttery and the lager is highly carbonated and scrubs the tongue like a scourer, getting it ready for next mouthful of cheese.”
Pâté will go well with fruit beers, like you may accompany it with cranberry sauces or compotes.
For a traditional turkey Christmas dinner, try a traditional Yorkshire ale like Timothy Taylors’ Landlord, followed by Black Sheep’s Riggwelter to accompany Christmas pudding and cheese, she says.