Purpose - Food and alcohol are symbolically and physically linked in many cultures. This article seeks to explore Australians' perceptions of the relationships between food and two of the more popular forms of alcohol - wine and beer.Design/methodology/approach - The findings from two parallel alcohol studies are reported. One study examined the role of wine consumption in Australian culture (n = 105), while the other study performed the same function in terms of beer consumption (n = 115). Interviews and focus groups were used in both studies to collect data from consumers and industry representatives to identify expectations of appropriate food and alcohol pairing.Findings - Wine was found to be strongly associated with food along three dimensions: complementarity, social meaning, and lubrication. This association occurs in the context that it is generally deemed inappropriate to consume wine without food. By comparison, a much weaker association appears to exist between food and beer. Interviewees reported regularly consuming beer in both eating and non-eating contexts, with the nature of the occasion influencing beer consumption rather than any food that may or may not be present.Originality/value - Consumers' expectations of the appropriate pairing of food with beer and wine are discussed in terms of their implications for those wishing to align particular food and alcohol products in the marketplace. A theoretical contribution is provided through a discussion of the ways in which different alcoholic beverages are assigned different symbolic meanings to allow them to facilitate divergent food consumption experiences.