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Anyone For Beer?

Is your restaurant missing out on opportunities to profit from beer?
Photo by Elevate on Unsplash
Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

Is your restaurant missing out on opportunities to profit from beer? Far too many operations offer a narrow range of beers that barely differ in flavor. Yet quality beer ranges as widely in style and is as food friendly as wine. Beer programs have low costs and healthy returns. Restaurants thrive on providing diverse and delicious taste experiences in food, wine, and spirits. Why should beer be any different?

Good beer lists are based on the same principles as good wine lists. They must offer menu-friendly options in a variety of colors, flavors, and weights. Beer’s primary flavor factors are the raw materials from which it’s made: malted grain, yeast, hops, and water.

Malted grain—Affects beer style the most, altering color, flavor, sweetness, and strength. Malts range from light yellow to dark, from barely toasted to blackened. The palest beers have the most delicate flavors, which grow in toasty intensity as the color deepens. Brewers vary the amount of malt to control the beer’s alcohol content. Color and strength, however, are independent; beer may be black and light bodied, like Guinness, or pale and full bodied, like a golden ale.

Yeast—Imparts a far more subtle influence on taste. Ale yeast is top fermenting and produces fast, hot, tumultuous fermentations. Ales are rich and often noticeably yeasty as a result. Lager yeast is bottom fermenting, operating much more slowly at colder temperatures. Lagers taste crisp and clean. Both ales and lagers may be pale or dark, light or full. The difference is in their fermentation.

Hops—These resinous flowers provide beer’s distinctive quenching bitterness. Originally used as a preservative, hops remain beer’s most important seasoning, adding herbal or citrus aromatics.

Brewers vary the proportions of these ingredients to achieve the desired style. The world’s favorite beer styles originate in Europe. There are three primary regional traditions whose recipes are imitated worldwide: those of the British Isles, Belgium, and Germany. American and other new-world brewers usually work from a model rooted in one of the old-world styles. 

Pale Ale—Amber color, hoppy, herbal. Category includes
India Pale Ale (IPA) and Extra Special Bitter (ESB).
Brown Ale—Brown color, mildly hoppy, malty.
Stout and Porter—Black color, pungent coffee taste.

Witbier—White color. Wheat beer seasoned with spices such as orange peel and coriander.
Trappist and Abbey Ales— Brown color, spiced, and full bodied (dubbel style) or golden color, spiced, and very strong (tripel style).
Lambic—Champagne-like, sour, sweet, or dry. Wild yeast– fermented wheat beer flavored with fruit such as raspberries, cherries, or peaches.

Pilsner—Pale lager, highly hopped. (American versions are far less hoppy.)
Amber Lager—Amber color, medium bodied, moderate hops. (Also called Oktoberfest, Marzen, or Vienna Lager.)
Heffeweizen—Cloudy, fruity yeast taste, light bodied, low hops. Wheat beer that may some- times be made Dunkel (dark).

Beverage managers who invest time in their wine lists and select their spirits carefully often shy away from promoting beer. Some are leery of its blue-collar image. Others, focused on up selling, think beer sales harm the bottom line. Deliberately limiting beer options is usually intended to encourage guests to spend more, but this approach is out-dated and short-sighted. Are those few extra dollars tonight worth it if you lose customers who had to forgo their favorite beverage?

The beverage world is changing fast. Savvy managers know that well-planned beer programs cost nearly nothing to implement but can build business by boosting profits and earning lifelong customers. Beer’s high markups and low menu prices can be a win-win for restaurants and customers. Even super-premium beers keep check totals reasonable, and cost-conscious diners will visit more often if dinner doesn’t break the bank. Bottled beers have none of the portioning and spoilage issues of open bottles behind the bar. Draft beers cost even less per serving yet taste better than bottled beer.

The trend in beverage consumption is to drink less but drink better, and beer is no exception. Young drinkers with discerning tastes are spending a little more for flavorful micro brews and luxury imports. They are ideal customers—future “foodies” who, as their incomes grow and their palates evolve, will become the next generation of wine and premium-spirit drinkers. Don’t lose these potential customers to the local taproom; put together a first-rate beer program that complements your establishment’s food, wine, and spirits.

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