Local sourcing, the force behind the wholesale change to farm-to-fork menus, is now remaking the beer list. And it’s happening in both lowbrow and highbrow restaurants, as operators look to distinguish their beer selection by offering hyperlocal brews. Some chains are even shopping local systemwide, tailoring their lists with whatever is available in each unit’s backyard. Hence the hip new label, “zip-code beers.”
“We localize our menu through our burgers [a unique one is created for each market], and as the next chapter, we’re pairing our menu with local brews,” says Tom Ryan, founder of Denver-based Smashburger. Menu icons and descriptions communicate the pairings. At presstime, 12 markets were running craft beer programs.
To pinpoint a local brewer, Smashburger does hands-on research while a new store is being constructed. The team samples brews at bars and sits down with the brewmasters to match burgers with beers.
Generally, Smashburger’s beer sales range from 3 to 10 percent of revenue, averaging around 4 percent. But when a craft program is launched, units see a 33 to 50 percent bump in beer sales. “We incrementalize our beer sales, get big credit in the local press for partnering with local brewers and get kudos for educating folks about the differences between a pilsner and an IPA,” says Ryan.
The food and beverage team at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is taking a more exclusive approach to craft-beer partnerships. “Travelers staying in a hotel want to go where the locals eat and drink; our job is to create bars and restaurants that resonate in the local community,” says Guy Rigby, vice president of food & beverage, the Americas, for the Toronto-based lodging chain. One way to do that, he says, is to offer exclusive items that guests can’t get elsewhere.
Although not mandatory, properties are encouraged to forge partnerships with local breweries. While hiking in upstate New York, Executive Chef John Johnson noticed elderflowers in bloom and commissioned a brewery in Westchester County, N.Y., to incorporate the flowers in a Belgian golden ale, exclusive to the Four Seasons Hotel New York. At the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, MKT Restaurant serves Market Street Wheat produced by a brewery right in the city; the beer complements the Haute Dog, a housemade short- rib frank, says Executive Chef Mark Richardson. When the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara approached a Santa Barbara brewery, they were super excited to collaborate and open to ideas, says Bixente Pery, director of food & beverage at the resort. “They also did not require a minimum volume,” he adds.
“There are multiple advantages to partnering with local breweries,” says Rigby. First, guests want to sample local drafts as part of the travel experience. If the hotel bar doesn’t offer them, they will go elsewhere. Also, local kegs are more sustainable, with a lower shipping cost and smaller carbon footprint. Finally, offering an exclusive cask drives traffic from the neighboring community, he says. “If we have a beer that connects with locals, they are more likely to drink it. We don’t have a metric for it, but the program does have financial benefits.”