Oysters and negroni? Paella and Rioja? How about Cheetos and Sancerre or fried chicken and Champagne? Food and alcohol pairings really know no bounds in the modern day, with interest in the concept going beyond the sommeliers in top restaurants to traditional pub landlords, with many now looking to throw up different combinations for a raft of different consumers.
Food Spark has looked before at some of the interesting bar snacks popping up in hospitality, but a recent trend in the retail space is looking to level the playing field, with a number of different snacking options focused on pairing food with alcohol now appearing.
Crisp giant Walkers got in on the action earlier this year with its Max Strong line, created to partner a cold pint of beer, whether down the local watering hole or at home in front of the telly.
Walkers claimed that 15% of social, beer-drinking occasions in the UK feature a packet of crisps, prompting them to launch a three-strong range in February: chilli and lime, jalapeno and cheese, and hot chicken wings. A wasabi-flavoured packet has since joined the line-up.
So why is the food pairing game now starting to trickle over into the retail space?
Matching the millennial
Research conducted this summer by Mintel revealed that 46% of the beer-drinking population in this country would like to see more information about matching food with beer, with global food and drink analyst Ayisha Koyenikan claiming that “when it comes to snacking, this summer will see strong flavours and textures that are specifically designed to go with alcohol.”
“Snacks that have strong textures and flavours hold up particularly well with beer and other alcohol and, thus, will win in popularity this summer.”
It’s no secret that Britain has lost its love for binge drinking, with millennials in particular now much more likely to enjoy a half pint of low ABV craft beer than to indulge in four pints of a mainstream lager on any given day.
Indeed, the food-alcohol trend is already prevalent in the craft beer world, where, in some cases, the two have actually become one.
“Within the food arena, I’ve seen that consumers are starting to have a dessert-sounding craft beer over an actual dessert sometimes,” says Chris Cannarile, food and beverage operations manager at The Laine Pub Company. “And by desserts I mean things like a peanut butter stout or a vanilla porter.”
But it’s not just beer and wines that are getting the pairing treatment in Britain.
That’s the spirit
Spirits have long been paired with food around the world. In Mexico, for example, a bottle of tequila graces many a table, especially when aguachile (shrimp cooked in citrus with chilli) is served. In Lebanon, the traditional spirit arak often clears the palate between courses.
Riding the growing British thirst for rum as well as the plant-based trend, artisan snack business Made for Drink recently revealed its take on patacones (a Latin American fried plantain snack), designed to match perfectly with golden rum.
Up till now, the brand’s concise range has been aimed solely at the beer drinkers, from duck fritons to munch with IPAs to mangalitza salami chips to crunch with pilsners.
“It's easy to think how the idea of food and drink pairing came into being – a way of one making the other better,” Dan Featherstone, founder of Made for Drink, tells Food Spark. “Sure, it can also be just a bit of fun, but it’s a fact that palates in certain parts of the world like similar styles of food and drink.”
Rather than the typical “dusty crisps served from a cardboard box,” Featherstone wanted to create a selection of snacks that were as interesting as the drinks they were being paired with.
“My belief is that smaller businesses have been able to articulate this moment much better than the larger businesses, who dominate many food and drink categories, and are better able to give this trend a voice in the retail environment – businesses like ours.”
In June, Waitrose began stocking Made for Drink’s chorizo thins, joining restaurants by Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal that already offer some of the company’s products.
With Walkers revealing its interest in joining the game, it might not be long before more artisan snack pairings are matched with a mainstream audience.
It’s an interesting concept. There was a spin off thing from the University of Nottingham that turned brewing waste into a snack made to pair with beer called Barmies, as well as a few other clever bits and pieces, but as yet there really isn’t a retail section for it outside of a few strings of jerky as you wander round the beer section. I could see this being a thing though with some forethought, just needs somebody to get out and make the retailers take notice.