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Beer Craft – May I See The Beer List Please?

By Mark Tichenor

Restaurant owners tend to be a conservative bunch, and who can blame them? In such a tough business it’s generally best to adopt an “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” mentality. For the longest time, however, that mindset only served to annoy the bejeezus out of craft beer lovers.

Only a few years ago you could expect to walk into a nice restaurant, find a wine list the size and complexity of the U.S. Tax Code, yet be treated to two or three domestic lagers and maybe an imported…lager. There was a pervasive mentality that, in the face of wine, beer was somehow too gauche to grace upscale tables.

These days the inverse is true. It’s rare to find a restaurant that doesn’t display a range and knowledge of fine beers from America and countries around the world. Beer menus coexist with wine lists, and great brews bring a touch of refinement to the table without vinicultural pretense. What caused this change in condition? Restauranteurs figured out beer could make them money.

According to a study by Consumer Edge Insight, 33 percent of alcohol drinkers who visit restaurants regularly report that they are more likely to order beer when offered a large selection of brands.  A better beer selection also made 26 percent of respondents order more servings of beer than they otherwise would have, because they want to try different kinds. More beer sales equals more revenue.

It seems kind of obvious doesn’t it? Just like kids want to try every flavor in the ice cream parlor, well-adjusted adults want a sip of every beer. Not only will a good, rotating beer list drive increased purchasing on a single restaurant visit, it’s also a heck of an incentive to keep folks coming back.

Close to 2,000 breweries nationwide, and now firmly-established third-party distribution networks help to keep those beer lists both great and rotating. For restaurant managers, the decision to stock beer from a brewery around the block, or beer from the other side of the world, has never been easier.

It begs the question, is the growth in beer revenue hurting wine sales? Jaime Barclay, General Manager of The Tap and Table in Rochester, doesn’t think so. “What’s most important is having a well-rounded beverage selection, in beer and wine and craft spirits,” she says. “We’re known as a beer place, but finding a great beer may make a customer want to try a great wine on the next visit. That’s why we don’t separate the sections out on our menu.”

Donna Schlosser-Long, Sales Consultant with wine importers Fredrick Wildman & Sons, agrees. In her view, wine and beer have always had a symbiotic relationship. “I don’t think there are wine customers not drinking beer, or beer customers, not drinking wine,” she says. Schlosser-Long also points out that wine sales in restaurants continue to rise, bolstering the evidence that people are enjoying craft beer alongside rather than instead of wine.

So the next time you find yourself at one of those places without dollar-signs on the menu, consider ordering a great beer to compliment a great meal. You just might be surprised at how the right brew brings out food’s flavors, and you’ll definitely display a sophistication for the modern age.

For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

Filed in: Beer Craft