The craft-beer movement, which has been swelling for the past decade or two, has become a driving force across the U.S. restaurant scene. As a result, beer is now a hotbed of innovation for many chefs—and not just on bar menus. Savvy operators are focusing on unique ways to promote beer across the menu, helping to position it as a key part of the growing trend toward shareable, social dining experiences.
Here are three tips for creating innovative, flavor-forward beer pairings on your restaurant menu.
Make Menus Sell
Phyllis Weege, owner of Menu Masters, a menu specialty company based in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, has helped many operators ride the craft-beer wave—and she thinks there’s still untapped opportunity. “Beer is getting the kind of descriptions that wine has had for decades now, and menus need to reflect that,” Weege says.
Weege recommends keeping longer craft beer menus separate from food menus. As with wine, she likes separating beer into sections based on regions, styles, etc. Staff training is also vital, and Weege suggests special server tastings as a great way to get staff up to speed on beer flavor notes and food interactions.
But, servers can’t say it all, so menu descriptions need to generate excitement. “Menus never have a bad day, says Weege. “I like to see craft-beer menus stay at the table so diners can really spend some time getting comfortable with hop levels, maltiness and other beer vocabulary.”
Put Beer First
While craft-beer descriptions may crowd menu real estate, they also present an excellent opportunity for upselling and discussing beer-and-food matching with a wider audience.
Dave Woolley, founder of CD Culinary Approach and former executive chef at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, lives in what many consider to be the micro-brew epicenter of Denver, Colorado. Some of his favorite examples of beer-friendly menus are full of hearty food, often inspired by beer meccas such as Germany and Belgium.
“Beer-forward places hit you with the beer first, then the food,” Woolley says. “At Euclid Hall in Denver, a huge 15-foot tap dominates the space. For food, it’s known for its beer-friendly sausage.”
Here, the beer list is divided into categories of increasing boldness and complexity. The easiest are session-style beers, often lower in ABV. The list works up to the most challenging beers, which are strong and complex.
At Euclid Hall, diners can try a few different brews paired with a sausage tasting of fresh, hand-cranked sausage. Add some house-made pickles and a variety of dips, and you have a rustic party scene perfect for sharing and socializing.
Match Flavors and Styles
Another key to successful pairings is using beer in food prep, especially with some of the more challenging, robust craft styles. Including unfamiliar flavors in well-known menu items—such as a stout mustard or a beer-cheese dip—can make these beers more approachable and encourage trial. “Bridge the gap by doing things like cooking mussels with the same style of beer you’ll be recommending diners drink,” Woolley notes.
The Brewers’ Association, a Boulder, Colorado-based trade organization for craft brewers, provides a beer and food pairing guide that steers people to more rules of thumb. For example, hoppy beers contrast rich, fatty foods. Bocks and malty beers are sweeter, so they enhance sweet, smoky flavors.
At San Francisco’s Belga Restaurant, the bar manager is also a “beer cicerone,” and the beer is sorted into evocative categories such as malty, funky, fruity and sour. The menu borrows mainstays of Belgian cuisine, including pan-roasted mussels with witbier and shallots, a Flemish beer stew and plenty of wurst.
Belgian influences also show up at Portland, Maine’s, Liquid Riot, a craft brewery, distillery and resto-pub with small-batch brews and an edited list of bar food including classic Belgian frites and house-made pretzels with Maine sea salt, hop mustard and beer cheese sauce.
alty and savory flavors are an essential for beer-friendly food, with plenty of pickles, cheese, charcuterie and fried delicacies on the pub scene. “Poutine is always good, both the classic version and some specialty variations,” Woolley says. “And a beer-laden cheese dip and pretzels are great add-on suggestions. When the beer is complicated, it doesn't hurt to have simple food."
For more creative tips on crafting memorable beer pairings, naming tools, and other helpful resources, be sure to visit Brew City® today.
This post is sponsored by Brew City®