One of the biggest menu trends in restaurants is not on the food menu – it’s on the beer menu. Craft beers have made their way out of the small local microbreweries and into the open arms of the general public and the restaurants they patronize. Is this just a phase or are craft beers earning their way into chef recommendations and pairings with food as their complexity and flavor profiles are being recognized as more than just beer?
Will we see craft beer pairings and suggestions much the same way as we see wine pairings and suggestions at fine dining establishments? We asked this question to our resident “foodie” and frequent diner, Alex Stewart, to chef Paolo Stefani, and to restaurateurs Rodger and Steve Powell of Argilla Brewing Company @ Pietro’s Pizza in Newark, Delaware. We also asked our loyal iDine members their thoughts. Here is what they think:
Answer: Wine will always rule at fine dining, but don’t under estimate craft beer at restaurants
Craft beer did a great job of exploding onto the foodie scene in the last three years – I mean Anheuser-Busch bought Goose Island back in 2011, so talk about insight!
It has actually been on the rise for some time. At the 2013 Technomic Trends and Directions conference, it was reported that five out of Technomic’s Fast 50 Brands are actually craft beers. Technomic also reported on a survey where consumers said they ordered a craft beer about 44% of the time (about 35% of that being female by the way!).
So is craft beer on its way to be a monopoly? No, not at the moment. But it’s pretty darn close to being half of the orders at restaurants, so owners have obviously listened to customers’ wants, and craft beer is one of them.
Do I personally think we’re going to see the general public calling for craft beer pairings or recommendations for dishes? Maybe, somewhat. There will always be craft breweries that also have a pub and will do this well. But do I see this reaching out to the general fine dining restaurant population? Probably not. The reason, I think, is because wine still plays such a big part of people’s dinner routines and it takes the American public a long time to adopt something new. If I’m at a fine dining restaurant, my go-to is wine. This makes sense, as Tehcnomic says about 70% of on-premise wine volume is domestic table wine – this is what we think we have to drink with a fine dining meal.
Answer: We see it happening every day in pubs and restaurants
I think you already are seeing these pairings all over. You go into any pub or small local restaurant and you will see them on the menu or suggested by the wait staff. The complexities and differences in craft beers really make them work with certain foods. Sure a simple pilsner will go great with Pizza and Burgers but when you get into some of the specialty beers, all of a sudden many more options open up. Take it from the Germans and the Austrian, beer and food go hand in hand, we are just learning the science of pairing food with craft beers.
Rodger and Steve Powell, Argilla Brewing Company @Pietro’s Pizza, Newark, Delaware (Pietro’s Pizza first opened as a small take-out pizza place 35 years ago. Then after dabbling in home brewing for several years they decided to combine their love of handcrafted beer with their love of pizza and food. Today, with seating for 124, Argilla Brewing Company @ Pietro’s Pizza rotates approximately 70 different small batches of microbrews and boasts a large menu of perfectly paired food and pizza.)
Answer: The possibilities are endless if you specialize in both
There are tons of complexities in beer, you can achieve flavor profiles in beer to make it as complex and robust as you like. There is definitely a place for it against wine in any atmosphere, casual or fine. At Argilla, we specialize in hand crafted microbrews, great food, and putting them together. Our atmosphere is casual and it works great for our pairings.
Besides our server and menu suggestions, we are getting more and more involved with pairings – we are starting food and beer events and dinners where we sell tickets with pre-fix menus and beer pairings where we can really experiment with these flavor profiles the way they are meant to be. So, yes, there is a lot of opportunity for great craft beer and food pairings on many different levels.
We would argue, though, that while these great combinations can stand up in any restaurants, one of the reasons we are so successful at these pairings is because we know the flavor profiles inside and out. We hand craft all of our beers in small batches – at 1.5 barrels we are the smallest brewery in the state of Delaware. That is something that works to our advantage – we’re small enough that we have the luxury of experimenting with new flavors and perfecting every nuance of them in a way that a lot of others can’t. So, while a professional could do tastings and suggestions much the same as they do with wines, we will still always know it best.
What do our iDine members have to say?
Answer: Stick to wine when you fine dine
In a recent survey to our iDine members, we asked if they would order craft beers over wine in fine dining restaurants. Not surprisingly, 48% of them said wine will always be their top choice here. But 20% did show an affinity toward craft beer (9% would order it over wine any time and 11% would consider it with the right pairing suggestions). This is in line with what our experts have to say – craft beer can be robust and complex and pair fantastically with food, but habits are hard to break. The gastropub seems to be the answer, bridging the atmosphere of a pub with fine dining quality food, where expectations can vary and beer and wine offerings abound.
So if you want to experience great food paired with beer, stick to those who know both well, like Argilla Brewing Company, to get the best experience!