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?