Nothing bothers me more than this scenario in a fine dining establishment: the polite waiter hands me a wine list, (which is essentially equivalent to the weight of the stone tablets that hold the Ten Commandments), asks if he can be of assistance, and, when asked, flips to the back page to reveal the “beer list” which reads: Guinness, Stella Artois, Blue Moon, Heineken, and maybe, just maybe, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Hmm….let’s look at this: 50 plus pages of wine…Jura represented by their offerings of Savagnin, an entire page of White Burgundy, all with three-digit prices.
You want wines made on the volcanic soils of Mt. Alba? Oh, we got em! Orange wines?! Yep! We’re with the trends!
Clearly, somebody spent days and days fretting over their vintage verticals, ensuring the composition of the selections mirrors the restaurant’s ethos, and double-checking that their prices are in-line with their industry mates. And then, when all is said and done, their pages are crisply printed, do they say: “oh fuck, I guess we need some beer in here”.
Its a new world out there, my friends, and if you have the gumption to call yourself a Beverage Director, you need to expand your awareness to all the great beverages out there. I don’t mind if you don’t like beer, if you haven’t had a beer in weeks (and the last one being after you mowed the lawn for the first time this summer and waited for your Muscadet to chill), or if you have a severe gluten allergy and cant even take a whiff without puffing up like a blowfish.
But I beg you: spend an hour on the beer page. Talk to your reps, tell them the focus of the restaurant, and let them help craft you a beer program to be proud of you. It doesn’t need to be 30 selections long, it can be 5-10. But it does need to have some local brews on there, it needs to be seasonal, and it needs to take food into account. Then, all you need to do is re-order and, maybe, just maybe, throw on a few new beers every few months.
I spoke with Greg Engert, Partner and Beer Director at Birch & Barley in Washington DC. Greg is at the cutting edge of introducing beer to the fine dining table, and giving it a rightful place next to the grape juice.
“It’s interesting that restaurants don’t make the connection when they’re doing it with wine. Craft beer can be just as noble a beverage.” But he feels that if you’re going to have a beer program at your restaurant, you need to also commit to offering the “craft beer experience.” This includes proper service, maintenance and cleaning of systems, and staff education. This will ensure the beer “really speaks.”
Hayley Jensen, Beer Sommelier at Taproom 307, notes, “Having a craft beer program has given me a medium to paint a picture of the global craft beer scene for my customers. I love keeping the list balanced and comprehensive — showing them beers from all the major beer countries, crazy riffs on classic styles, and odd ball hard to define brews.”
Your diners will thank you for introducing them to the fact that beer and food are wonderful together (gasp!). A beverage program is your chance to leave your signature. You can have your opinions on whether or not foie gras is for you, but don’t neglect the beer!