Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Want Better Beer and Better Beer Service in Restaurants

It happens all the time. You go into a "foodie" type restaurant, wanting a great meal, and, as the waitress greets you, she hands you a wine list with dozens of choices. If you ask for a beer list, they don't have one. If you ask what beers they have, they struggle after rambling through Bud, Miller, Coors and their light variations, occasionally tossing in Heineken for a laughable attempt at serving a "premium" product.

The other night at the Delaware Cafe, when I asked about beers, my otherwise competent and savvy waitress told me they had the Boulevard products (but no Nutcracker) and pointed to a row of backlit beer bottles at the top of the bar shelves - undecipherable green and brown glass profiles. I didn't complain about the lapse in my review of the restaurant, because it would be unfair to knock one restaurant for an oversight that is near-universal.

It's time, though, that beer and beer drinkers get some respect. I want to see better beer in restaurants, and I expect professional waiters and waitresses to be able to present the options competently. I want to see beer lists offered like wine lists, ideally with descriptions of the beers so that diners can expand their beer horizons when out dining.

And no frosted mugs. Just don't.

If you are a restaurant owner and care about your beer-drinking customers, you owe it to step up your game. While I realize that the economics favor serving a $45 bottle of wine instead of an $8 bottle of beer, rising beer prices and ease of service can make great beer a more attractive economic proposition. If you're running a high-end restaurant, you can offer expensive bottles of beer with decent mark-ups, and grateful malt-lovers will appreciate the opportunity to pay the price. Boulevard's Saison Brett is flying off store shelves at $12 or more a bottle, and I would have been happy to spend $18 - $19 to enhance my meal with a bottle of that wonderful stuff.

I'm not asking every restaurant to become a tap house. Even those with small space can offer a popular and intriguing selections of beers to enhance the food. Here are five choices that I think ought to be offered in every fine restaurant - readers are welcomed to add their recommendations.

Fullers London Porter
: A classic dark, rich sipping beer, this traditional english ale will enhance rich meals and red meats.

Anchor Steam Beer
: Assertively hopped, with a relatively light body, Anchor Steam will stand up to spicy foods and cool the tongues of diners who appreciate hop bitterness and flavor.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier: An explosion of yeasty, clovey, banana flavors, hefeweizens are spritely and engaging. A perfect pre-dinner beer to wake up the taste buds, or a fine complement to the fresh and pure flavors of creative cuisine.

Odell's 90 Shilling Scottish Ale: Odell's beers are justly famous, and 90 Shilling does for malt what Anchor Steam does for hops. Rich with a rounded malty sweetness balanced by just enough hops. This is a lighter version of Scottish Ale, perfect for matching up to roasted poultry and or balancing spicy food.

Ommegang Abbey Ale: Seductively rich and warming, this belgian style ale from Cooperstown, NY, is burgundian in its complexity. Perfect for dessert, especially with anything chocolate.

Of course, you may want to offer a typical American light beer, for the beer drinking equivalent of someone ordering White Zin at a wine bar, but the above 5 beers ought to help restaurants dignify their barley selections. Just as they wouldn't serve their finest meals on paper plates, it's time for them to show more class and respect for beer drinkers.

Beer lovers - what 5 beers would you recommend to a restaurateur trying to upgrade the suds in a nice restaurant?

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Blogger Owen said...

I like those choices though I haven't had two of them. One being the Hefe-Weissbier, a style I tend to stay away from. The other being the Odells though I've loved most of the other stuff I've had from that brewery and they make a good pale ale.

All right. My choices. For my light beer choice I would go with Sapparo. I drink it with barbecue and I drink it with Mexican. (When I can) It's a really good spicy-food beer that's light while having lots of taste.

Getting a little heavier I also would have to put the deadly St. Bernardus ABT 12 on tap. A great medium-style Belgian that goes with fried foods.

In the pale ale category give me Racer 5, which is a little hoppy and a little heavy for many foods but fits barbecue beans and Chicago-style pizza well.

In replace of a porter I am picking a stout and going with what may be my single favorite beer in the world- Murphy's Stout. (which I found on tap last weekend!) This does not go well with a meal as much as a couple of these can be a meal by themselves. In fact, when I was in Ireland, a Murphy's Stout and a piece of toast was basically my breakfast and I just grew accustomed to the smooth, slightly nutty taste of it to the point other Irish stouts (including Guinness) don't really do it for me.

That's my list and I must say Dan, if I knew what you called that homemade Belgian-style I tasted of yours I'd include that on my list as well.

11/15/2008 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Oily Discharge said...

You are smarter with beer than public policy or politics.

11/15/2008 11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this type of post much better than all your political crap.

I'm not really a beer drinker, but being from the great white north, Molson, Molson Ice and Labatts are about all I can handle. My husband had a local brew at a smokehouse tonight that was "hoppy" he said. He liked it. I said "yeck!" He liked the beer at O'Dells, too.

11/15/2008 11:10 PM  
Anonymous BrewBen said...

Boulevard Sixth Glass
Cuvee Rene
Blanche De Chambly
Fort by Dogfish Head
Racer 5

I'll leave the English brews up to you.

11/15/2008 11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you tried Natural Light? It is a smooth concoction with very little aftertaste. On the heavier side, I recommend Milwaukee's Best (or the "Beast," as I call it). The Beast is not for the novice beer drinker with an untrained palate. Go slow and work up to the Beast.

Oh, and I just love Budweiser Select. The brewer - Budweiser - has German roots, of course, so those of you who don't like to travel outside of the good 'ol USA, be prepared for something different. Has anyone out there tried any of my recommendations?

11/15/2008 11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duff beer.

11/16/2008 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Brent said...

Well said Dan. It's highly annoying when you go to a good restaurant and the beer choices are several American Style Beers and Heineken.

I'm a big fan that any time I go to a restaurant I would have a good selection of the best local beer. So having at least the full Boulevard Line would be ideal (plus the seasonal). If it's a really good restaurant, having the Smokestack Series is recommended also.

If you're going with outside tastes, here's a smattering:

Shlafley APA
Rogue Dead Guy Ale
Love and Hoppiness -- also by Rogue

That'd keep me pretty entertained for almost any occassion.

11/16/2008 10:09 PM  
Blogger les said...

It'll never happen--it's too easy to trot out the usual lite trash. As a KC Star reviewer (!) once put it, "Coors Lite--the poor man's Perrier." Some nice 'Murkan brews wouldn't hurt--

New Belgium's 1554
Left Hand Brewery--Milk Stout and Sawtooth Ale
Spanish Peaks--Black Dog Ale

Mostly, an even slightly educated wait staff would go a long way. Even restaurants that have a decent selection don't usually have anyone who knows what's up.

11/17/2008 11:15 AM  
Anonymous josh said...

Okay, these are really just some of my favorite beers at the moment, but I think it's a nice cross-section:

St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout
Ft. Collins Retro Red
Avery Ellie's Brown Ale
Unibroue Maudite
Great Divide Titan IPA

A little something for everyone, and all are readily available.

11/18/2008 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Nuke said...

OK, I know I am not as well educated on beer as some. In the last couple years I have moved towards more interesting beer, less quantity more quality if you will. I would offer up the following.

Blvd Sixth Glass- by the bottle, I don't wanna share an already opened one.
Blvd Bob's 47- my usually "Guinness Only" brother even likes it.
Rogue Dead Guy Ale- Just had it this weekend and liked it a lot.
Something like 75t St's Possum Trot Brown Ale (since I dunno if they make enough for other pubs).

OK, I only have 4. I'd put Fat Tire for 5, but I see that a lot of places these days.

As for iced mugs, they have their place. When you are chugging down whatever light is on tap by the pitcher with your boys during the game, the cold kinda helps it slide down.

11/18/2008 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

I'm not a beer drinker myself, but my niece works at the Flying Saucer in the Power and Light District. She had to take a test on every kind of beer they sell and what the flavors are before she could start work there. They have a ridiculous number of different beers they serve there. Might try them out.

11/22/2008 11:52 AM  

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