The explosion of craft beer in the UK means that operators can't afford to not have a menu listing all types, from session ales to complex porters. Beer sommelier John Porter explains how casual-dining outlets can add some fizz to their offering
Beyond its heartland in the mainstream pub sector, beer has sometimes been regarded as a poor relation by restaurants. But while the commercial rationale that wines and spirits generate better gross profit and put more cash in the till may once have been sound, that picture is changing.
As a beer sommelier, I am asked by a broad range of outlets to work with staff on their knowledge of beer styles and beer and food matching. More operators have recognised that growing consumer interest in craft beers brings with it a willingness to pay more.
Figures from the CGA Peach on-trade brand index to 5 September 2015 show that:
â- Craft beer commands a significant premium over other beer categories, at an average of £4.32 a pint for keg and £4.03 for a bottle in the on-trade
â- Craft beer is stocked in 31% of all on-trade beer outlets
â- Craft beer drinkers have a higher than average income at £46,000, and 43% of them eat and drink out at least weekly.
Jonathan Downey, co-founder of street food specialist London Union, reports that 50% of bar sales across its six sites are beer. Alongside brands such as Fuller's Frontier and the Heineken-owned Birra Moretti, canned craft beer from US and UK brewers is a big seller.
"Our crowd is adventurous," says Downey. "They're not easily influenced, but you can nudge them in certain directions."
The Michelin-starred Galvin brothers recently opened Galvin HOP in Spitalfields, a new gastropub format that offers high-quality pub food such as hot dogs, burgers and pizza alongside craft beer including Pilsner Urquell, served from branded tanks in the bar. "Offering great beer was always an important part of the concept," says Jeff Galvin. "The style of food lends itself to being accompanied by a great beer. The beer tanks also look great."
In Brighton, authentic Indian food specialist Chilli Pickle offers a range of craft beers alongside beer brands more usually found in Indian restaurants. Chef and co-founder Alun Sperring says: "When we started eight years ago, generally the reputation in our sector was just a hot curry and a cold beer to wash it down with. We wanted to make it more quirky.
"Cobra and Kingfisher are still great sellers, but many people are more adventurous. IPAs and dark beers are better with stronger flavours, such as our mutton curries and oxtail madras, while the Schneider-Weisse wheat beer goes amazingly well with our fish curry. It gives us a point of difference and there's something for the more serious beer drinker."
Site Pizzeria in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, specialises in wood-fired, handmade pizza, and serves craft beers including those of the nearby Little Valley Brewery. Natalie Barrass, co-owner of the restaurant, says: "Our aim is to create great flavours sustainably and finding the right producer that understands this can take time. A brewery producing quality vegan and organic beer is ideal for us.
"We pair Little Valley's beers with our pizzas, which go down well with our customers."
With more than 1,400 breweries in the UK, according to the British Beer & Pub Association, operators have a huge choice. Rupert Thompson, managing director at Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery, says: "There's no excuse not to offer an interesting selection of beer styles that will appeal to beer novices and geeks alike."
Hogs Back's flagship Tea ale has been identified by CGA as one of the on-trade's fastest-growing craft beers, and Thompson sounds a warning note to operators tempted to continually change the beers on offer. "Diversity has been a good thing, but it can also lead to overrotation.
Most customers want to see a beer they've heard of on the bar and, if they like it, they want to drink it again on their next visit."
Frazer Thompson, chief executive of Chapel Down wine and its beer and cider off-shoot Curious Drinks, says: "Like wine, there's a growing explosion of choice for the consumer and a search for the new. But unlike wine, there isn't such clarity or guidance on styles, tastes, uses or occasions for beer.
"We want the same knowledge and education to be available when it comes to beer, so consumers can be as fascinated and passionate about beer as they are about wine."
New beers on the market
Japanese brewer Asahi has launched dark lager brand Super Dry Black. Distributed by Shepherd Neame in the UK, Super Dry Black has a deeper, darker appearance and flavour due to the addition of roasted malt, while maintaining the dry, crisp, refreshing character of a lager. Suggested food matches are ramen or a spicy Japanese beef curry.
Himalayan Monkey Beer and Shimla Indian Beer have been developed by importer East End Foods to complement the spices used in Indian dishes without overpowering their delicate flavours. Authentically brewed and bottled in India, the beers are aimed at Indian restaurants looking to appeal to craft beer drinkers.
Edinburgh-based Caledonian Brewery has added Coast to Coast, an America-inspired pale ale, and Three Hop, a craft lager, to its range of bottled beers. Managing director Andy Maddock, says that with "the craft beer buzz continuing to drive new
consumers into the beer category, the bottle format offers our customers the opportunity to experiment to give consumers a great choice of quality beers."
Italian food importer Continental Quattro Stagioni has introduced a range of artisan beers from the Collesi brewery in Italy's Marche region. All are unpasteurised and bottle-fermented, and have been developed to match with a range of food styles, from Birra Bionda with fish to Birra Rossa with desserts.
Following a £1.5m expansion programme, including building a new brew house, Staffordshire-based Freedom Brewery has expanded its range of bottled craft lagers with the addition of East India Pale, an IPA-inspired contemporary lager that joins Liberty Pils, Boston Beech, Freedom and Organic Helles.
Importer Heathwick is introducing the Mexican craft beer scene to the UK market with two ranges: CucapÁ¡ from Cerveceria de Baja California in Mexicali and C5 Saga from Cinco de Mayo Brewery in Atlixco de Puebla. Heathwick general manager Graham Richardson says the breweries "have been carefully selected for their unique, high-quality beers and their ability to pair well with foods, particularly Tex-Mex and Mexican style dishes."
How to plan a beer list
With the US craft beer boom several years ahead of the UK's, Sylvia Kopp, craft beer ambassador for the Brewers Association, suggests how to create a basic craft beer list.
Session ales A rapidly growing beer style in the UK and usually a beer with an ABV of 4%-5.5%
Pale ales Similar to British bitter, these are golden to amber ales using hops that may contain citrus, floral or pine notes
IPAs The undisputed rock stars of the craft beer world, IPAs tend to be more assertively hopped than pale ales Lagers and pilsners The trend towards lighter beers and the renaissance of lager is taking hold. Blonde, kÁ¶lsch and golden ales serve as a stepping stone from mainstream lager
Speciality beers Experimenting with emerging beer styles, such as sour beers, will add interest
Stouts and porters This style is especially popular in the colder months as they are rich and robust and tend to attract a loyal following.
How to match beer with food
Beer has a broader range of flavours and styles than wine, prompting a need for a different vocabulary. When I train people as a beer sommelier, I use these three guidelines:
Match similar flavours, such as lemon sole with a citrusy lager
Balance distinctive flavours, such as tangy cheddar with a hoppy IPA.
Match similar strengths of flavour, such as a rich chocolate dessert with dark porter.
Online training Staff knowledge is key to engaging customers in craft beer, and online learning offers a route to get staff up to speed simply and quickly.
Beer Academy Beer Steward Eight e-learning modules enable bar staff to gain a sound understanding of the basics of beer, from brewing to serving. It includes guidance on serving cask, keg and bottled beers, with each module tested with multiple-choice questions.
Cask Beer Uncovered Five short films, developed by quality assessor Cask Marque, guide candidates through every aspect of cask beer, with content delivered by brewers, publicans, bar staff and beer drinkers. Each film is followed by a multiple-choice test.
Beer & Food US trade association the Brewers Association offers an introduction to craft beer, showing how to pair beer with food and how to pour and present beer at the table. Constructed as a five-day course, the digital manual breaks tasting and pairing beer down into simple words and is free to download.
Continental Quattro Stagioni
East End Foods
Hogs Back Brewery
Little Valley Brewery
Miller Brands (Pilsner Urquell)
Shepherd Neame (Asahi)
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