Restaurants & Craft Beer: A Case Study

Recently my sister Emma and her fiancée Josh bought out the other half of the restaurant that Josh is a chef at. Feast, as its called, is a good wee restaurant and I’m not just saying that out of family loyalty: it was listed in Cuisine magazine’s 150 restaurants to try and received a great write-up in Fashion Quarterly. They already had a couple of craft beers, but Josh wanted to expand the range. As Em has taken over the front-of-house duties and was re-evaluating everything from the artwork to the fridges, it fell to her to investigate their options.

First she went local. As they are in Cromwell, they tried the Arrow Brewing Company beers and quite liked them. Stocking local beers something I’d really like to see more restaurants consider. Yes, Auckland restaurants often serve local brews – Lion’s brewery is, after all, located in Otara, while DB is not far away in Otahuhu. But it would be good to see great local beer on the same level of importance that local wine and food is given. An oft complaint of my Dad’s is eating out in Blenheim, being offered a dozen wines produced within a 50k radius but not a single one of the great local brews. I’d even extend ‘local’ to ‘Made in NZ’; how frustrating is it to be offered Heineken and Carlsburg next to a New Zealand wine ?

When trying the beers from Arrow, Em and Josh came up against another issue: 500ml bottles. I gather Josh originally thought 500ml bottles would be too big, but after the two of them went out to dinner and shared a bottle, he revised this opinion. This is also another thing I wish more restaurant decision makers would do: actually try things. Personally, I really like sharing a bottle of 500ml over a main – after all, don’t many people order an entire 750ml bottle of wine? And more importantly, how can you know the answer if you haven’t tried it?

So far, my sister was going about selecting her craft beers is a rather sensible manner. Then Dad and I got involved. It started with an email from Dad, saying he knew they were thinking of local beers for Feast, but Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery do a range in classy 330ml bottles, especially for the restaurant market. ‘I know your sister will say ‘aaargh green bottles’,’ he wrote, ‘but they are really good beers’. To which I predictably said ‘aaargh green bottles’ and accused Dad of being superficial about beer labels.* Em, with her FoH hat on, admitted while I might be right about Dad, but ‘we need to think about it ‘cos our beers are on display and people pick with their eyes sometimes.’ She’s right of course; beer labels do need to be attractive and recognisable. But I think I’m right as well: you don’t want to reward someone for trying a new beer with a skunky mess.  In many cases though, I don’t think this will be a problem; New Zealand craft beer labels are generally very attractive and consistency is rising.

Then, much to my disgust, my darling sister attempted to sell me her leftover Moa Methode. She’s got nothing against the beer’s taste or their horrid advertising – she simply hates pouring the bottle-fermented beer that delights in frothing over. She can do it – she is after all, an experienced hospo worker. But newer or less experienced staff can’t. Bottle-fermented beer is a more extreme case, but it is important for staff to have a reasonable knowledge of which beer glass to use, how to best pour that beer and even simply knowing which beers the restaurant has to offer.

The point of this rather rambling post is not what restaurant should be doing – I’m in no way qualified to offer such an opinion. Instead I hope to offer what they could be thinking about and what questions they should be considering – more importantly, that they should be considering craft beer. I’m quite proud that my sister and future brother-in-law are giving craft beer a proper go in their restaurant and happy that they feel there’s a demand for it in small town New Zealand.

If you’d like to check out Feast, they’re located in Shop 7, The Mall, Cromwell, open Tuesday to Saturday.

* He’s still yet to try any Green Man beers, simply because he doesn’t like the labels.

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About Kate

Beer-lover and crafter
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9 Responses to Restaurants & Craft Beer: A Case Study

  1. I recently went on a rant about beer in Melbourne restaurants. Since typing it, I’ve heard from some of the top restaurants who are really keen on expanding their beer range. It seems both customers and sommeliers are starting to take note of beer outside of the major players. It’s pretty exciting to see.

    Good work for these guys to get on board and give their customers something a little more exciting than 4 different choices of lager.

    (you can read my rant here: http://aleofatime.com/2011/06/27/thoughts-on-beer-in-melbourne-restaurants/ )

    • I remember that post! I loved the emphasis on local – that’s probably my biggest gripe. But it raises some questions – how is the relationship between wine and the restaurant and craft beer and the restaurant different? Do restaurants deal direct with wineries? Is so, should breweries be approaching more restaurants? And if not, we need to look at beverage distribution companies and see what’s happening there.

      • Bridge Road Brewers are the best example her in Australia. Apparently he knocks on a lot of doors and it shows (I think I mentioned them in my piece?). They are in most of the top places in Melbourne. Also, if you watch them on twitter, they quite often check in with pubs/restaurants to see if they want any new stock.

        What works in small brewers favour is, craft beer as a whole is an excellent product. It’s a matter of getting it in the hands of chefs and sommeliers. As we’ve seen with food, trends filter down.

        Antoher major hurdle, that you’ve talked about, is education. I got a Mikkeller 1000ibu recently, and the barman just served it to me without warning. If I was only used to ‘macro’ beers, then that is a disaster for craft beer (If you’ve never tried it, it’s a tastebud killer. Ruined my tastebuds for well over an hour). It’s kind of a minefield in that sense, and hospo managers need to be careful with what their staff are passing on, even more so than with wine. An imperial stout or triple IPA, if you are expecting a classic ‘draught’ beer, is a pretty horrific thing to have put in front of you.

        As a side note; I was at one of the top restaurants in Oz recently and they mentioned my blog post and said they were looking at doing a beer matching menu. All they had was a couple of macros and maybe one local beer, but now they are researching local beers. That’s encouraging I think.

  2. Dan says:

    Useful and constructive stuff for restaurants.. and breweries too (particularly in terms of the presentation).

    I would love to see more decent beer in Restaurants, aside from having something decent to drink when out for a meal, it would boost the profile of craft beers in general.

    It’s not hard to notice that if there is even a list of beer, it’s on the last page in the wine list along with soft drinks and fruit juice… a total afterthought. And usually it is just a dump of the catalogue from either Lion or Devil’s Brew; whomever answered the phone first.

    It’s got me realising that making restaurants aware is the key thing here. Next time I go out for dinner at any place offering a good selection of local wines; I will be sure to ask for a list of the local beers too. And if they don’t have one, maybe I will direct them here; and point out that they can make much better mark up on real beer; similar to that on their wines. And plenty of free promotion from the likes of us!

    • I think you’re right about restaurants aware. The hard thing is how – telling the waitstaff probably won’t have a lot of impact, but talking to the bar manager or the head of front-of-house might get somewhere. Maybe the next post should be ‘How to Bring Craft Beer to the Attention of Your Favourite Restaurant’?

      • Dan says:

        Yes; part of this is definitely talking to the right people, and getting through. It’s not an easy fix though, aside from maybe flicking him a sales rep card from one of the local breweries.

        Part of the issue is distribution too as you say above; most breweries don’t have sales reps running around looking out for stockists. Distribution is an interesting challenge too. I was under the impression that the distribution chain for the major brands is handled internally; no interest then in stocking beer from small players.

  3. Tony Chandler says:

    Has anyone really looked into handling distribution via the restaurant/cafe channel for some of the craft brewers out there?
    It sure is disappointing going to an upmarket eatery such as Marvel Grille and the closest thing they have to a craft beer is a horrible IPA by the name of Fat Yak which I’ve since found out is from Fosters. – About as craft as Boundary Road Brewery. They even had VB there FFS!
    It will probably take a dedicated company – experienced in selling to the hospitality industry and representing a number of brands to go into restaurants/cafes and start actually selling craft beer to them.
    I make it a habit off ALWAYS asking which craft beer they have available when dining out and if they can’t help me I usually politlely suggest they should look at it.
    If I look at a local we frequently lunch at – Squid Row – yes I know it’s just around the corner from Galbraiths but their $12.00 lunches can’t be beat , the only craft beet they have there is Little Creatures.Pale Ale. A great beer to be sure but Australian….
    Sorry to rant but I think restaurants need to lift their game but the brewers probably need to just as much.

    Cheers

    Tony

  4. Tiff says:

    I’m pleased to say I’m finding loads more local brews in restaurants near me. I like trying new things, but I’m happy with ordering repeats of the local beers. Of course, it helps that these breweries are actually quite tasty.

    Prost

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