Fine dining taps into craft beer in US

Increasingly, high-end restaurants in the US are offering enhanced beer menus, putting them on a par with sophisticated wine lists, according to Mary Chapman Director of Product Innovation at US survey firm Technomic.

She cites a number of case histories such as the white-tablecloth steakehouse Morton’s which “offers a range of beers from mainstream domestics and premium varieties but it also includes vintage brews and ultra-premium crafts, trappists and lambics from around the world including Lindemans Raspberry Lambic, Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Paulaner Hefe Wiezen and an Orval Trappist Ale, which the chain calls one of the world’s finest beers”.

She also cites the Melting Pot restaurant chain which offers “craft beer pairings with its promotional Big Night Out menus, listing a complementary beer for each meal’s four courses: cheese fondue, salad, entrée fondue and dessert fondue. In a recent America-themed menu, the beer flight was $12 for the four 6-ounce tastes while the wine-pairing flight was $20 for four 3-ounce pours.
“Tess, a fine-dining independent restaurant in Milwaukee, has ceased its regular wine dinners in favor of monthly beer dinners, which pair craft beers, mostly from local brewers, with a five-course meal. The owners cite not only the popularity of crafts but also the fact that beer is less expensive than wine and customers are more comfortable with the cost.”

According to Mary Chapman, the financials are not just easier for customers to take as operators benefit from them as well. “David Commer, a beverage consultant and President of Commer Beverages, says that a main driver for fine-dining restaurants is margins: ‘It’s an inelegant reason behind the surge in craft beers on these menus,’ he says, ‘but you can get higher markups on them’.”

She adds, “David Commer also points to the pairing opportunities as diners are looking for new flavor experiences and want to experiment. And he notes that offering craft beers from nearby brewers is tied to the locally-sourced and higher-quality food movements.

“Offering enhanced beer menus may be an opportunity for higher-end restaurants—including chains—to show that they understand local suppliers and customers. And it can be one way that a restaurant lets its customers explore nuanced flavors and pairings.”

But for a truly successful beer programme, she says, “Operators should be sure to keep their concept, menu and experience in mind. The brews must complement the food items and be of the same quality level. And staff must be able to discuss the flavor notes, brewing techniques and locality just as well as they can address these characteristics of the wine list”.

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