Bring on the Good Beers

Andre Francisco at Just a Rough Draft (and recently at POGO as well) and I could drone on for hours lamenting a common and serious problem with fine dining establishments: the beer list.

Andre Francisco and I could drone on for hours lamenting a common and serious problem with fine dining establishments: the beer list. It is all too common for restaurants to have extensive wine lists, and servers knowledgable about which wines will pair well with which dishes, but have only rancid, tasteless mass market brews like Heineken, Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft in bottles at ridiculous prices. Beer remains for many restaurants a cheaper, less sophisticated drink, when there are many beers crafted with just as much care and sophistication as a vinter puts into an expensive wine.

To illustrate, Danielle and I lunched at Ristorante Piccolo in Georgetown as part of DC’s Restaurant Week. The food was delicious, and all the beverages expensive. House Wine was $8, and while there were several pages of reds, whites, rosés and champagnes, there were eleven beers on the entire menu. Among them were two Italian lagers, Miller Lite, and a healthy offering from InBev and SABMiller, all between $6-8 for a bottle. This is absurd. It’s like selling boxed wine for $6 a glass, and Three Buck Chuck for $8; no wine drinker would tolerate that. At Piccolo they even misspell the name of their best beer, Sam Adams as “Sam Adam,” it may seem like a small detail, but it’s but one in a collection of double standards and gourmet oversights.

More than the selection of beer, the presentation at these restaurants is also upsetting. While wines at these restaurants are typically delivered in the correct glass, beers are delivered in a pint glass, the same one they serve in college bars and greasy spoons. Here again, a double standard. For wine it is important for the glass to facilitate the wine’s flavor, a glass acceptable for wine drinkers; for beer, just some glass.

That tweet from Andre above pretty much sums up this whole post. Imagine a server dumping wine from the bottle into a glass, aerating it all over the place, maybe even dribbling a little on the table cloth, and in the wrong glass to boot. They would be gone faster than you could say, “Careful, man, there’s a beverage here!” Yet beer gets treated like Coca-Cola: something people drink when they don’t like, or can’t drink wine.

A tripel should be served in a goblet. They look fancy because they are fancy. As BeerAdvocate’s Alström Bros say, the Tripel is “a pretty damn fascinating style of beer to say the least. If crafted and served correctly, it is a beverage of great awe.” They are brewed in a specific kind of monastery in Belgium called a “Trappist,” and by law only Trappists may brew it. Typically are extraordinarily alcoholic—think 10%—because they are brewed with three times (get it, triple?) the amount of malt normally used in an ale.

For all the same reasons why its important to serve wine properly it is also important to serve beer properly. The average drinker might not tell the difference between an India Pale Ale and an Extra Pale Ale, but an informed palate will be able to distinguish not just between the different types, but what makes one brewery’s IPA better than others. Every part of the brew process influences the flavor of the beer, and not just the ingredients, but also how they are used. The shape of the glass, and the temperature it is served at can sometimes greatly alter a beer’s flavor, just like wine.

This is not to say there are not places to get a good brew. There are, in many cities around the world, excellent restaurants with gourmet food and beers to match. For DC Beer Week (the same week as Restaurant Week) Andre, Danielle and I ventured out to Big Hunt in Dupont Circle and enjoyed half price bombers. We also went to Churchkey where we all shared a pint of Heavy Seas’s Siren Noire, a stout that tastes like the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had and the best bourbon I’ve yet to have, folded gently into an amazingly heavy and smooth stout. A must try for anyone jumping into the specialty beer foray.

No, this is just to say, that with the explosion of craft brewing across this country there are more and more people going to restaurants these days who know the difference between good and bad beers. Given the price difference, there may actually be more of us than people who can tell from wines, and it’s time restaurants gave the beer drinkers a decent option. Brewers know this, beer drinkers know it, it’s time the chefs started to pay attention. So, bring on the good beer.