Good For What Ales You: Our Restaurant Craft Beer Guide
There is much that goes into serving alcohol in your restaurant, from managing your stock to Alcohol sales have historically represented a robust business opportunity for restaurateurs. Beer alone accounts for roughly 188.79 million kiloliters or approximately 531.97 billion bottles of 12 fluid ounce beer around the world. As you might expect, the pandemic created an enormous fluctuation in the market, with sales going up for off-premise orders, but down for in house business. Beer sales have a promising future between more avenues for alcohol delivery and vaccination programs offering a potential end to lockdowns. Whether you’re expanding your beer sales or anticipating a better tomorrow, our restaurant craft beer guide can give you the basics before you call a cicerone.
Before we dive deep into niche beer choices, let’s start with the basics. A domestic beer refers not only to the location that the beer was made but also to the volume that it’s produced in. By contrast, craft beers are smaller scale and while they may be local to your area or country, they don’t operate at the same capacity. Craft beer sales have steadily increased, growing to meet popular demand. Let’s look at a few of the more common terms below:
- Alcohol By Volume (ABV): This measures the potency of a beer. The higher the ABV, the more intoxicating the beverage. Keep this in mind, as it will inform how you engage with your local Dram Shop Laws.
- International Bitterness Unit (IBU): The IBU of a beer identifies the bitterness of a drink. The higher the IBU, the more potential there is to off-put strangers. Typically, pale ales have the highest IBU. Knowing the IBU of a beverage is critical in helping guests determine their choice of beer.
- Gravity – Gravity is a reflection of the general viscosity or density of a beer, as it refers to the number of dissolved solids in a drink. Those solids are typically sugars, which interact with the yeast to raise the overall ABV. Again, this is useful information in pairing, as it reflects the general heaviness of beer.
- Session beer – Session beers are identifiable by their low ABV content, allowing enthusiasts to enjoy a few without the fear of greater intoxication.
- Imperial – This is a term you may notice that seems like a style, but is not. To call a beer an “imperial” addresses more the process of the craft, usually denoting a much heavier ABV as the bottom line.
There are plenty of other terms that apply to the art of brewing, but in terms of your restaurant craft beer guide, this ought to give you what you need.
By far the most popular style of beer, Lagers account for a majority of beer production in the U.S. and beyond. The primary source of this production comes from the major U.S. breweries Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. Lagers are easy to drink, crisp, and often light in body, pairing well with heartier, pub fare. The style gained momentum in 16th century Europe, where they were fermented in cave systems or in underground cellars. The advent of refrigeration made the style that much more accessible, girding its popularity for the foreseeable future.
Types of Lagers
Modern beers are still influenced by the German Purity Law of 1516, which set traditions of centuries to come. That law laid out particular rules for aspiring brewers in terms of their ingredient selections and fermentation process, with lagers front and center. Because of that, brewers had to find ways to remain creative within the guidelines. A few lager adjacent beers include:
- Pilsner – A pilsner is a pale lager that is light to golden in color, with a crisp front end and a subtly sweet aftertaste. Pilsners are common and pair well with spicy meat dishes like roasted pork or chicken.
- Kölsch – kölsch beers feature notes of wheatgrass and lemon, an ideal companion to a light lunch of cheese and salad.
- Bock – A less common lager style, bocks are notable for their dark hues and malty richness. Typically sporting a higher ABV, bocks come in a few varieties (maibock, dopplebock to name a few), pairing well with heartier dishes like a Shephard’s Pie.
- Helles – Like a pilsner or kölsch, helles beers are light-colored, crisp, and mildly sweet at the back of your palate. A helles style brew is likely to score a low ABV and IBU, make them a perfect session beer. Helles beers pair particularly well with greasier, fried foods, as a counterpoint to the heaviness of those dishes.
- Dunkel – A dark lager, dunkels tend to have a somewhat higher ABV, but lower IBU, which is balanced out with a roasted malt finish. A German-style, dunkels pair well with sausages and other grilled meats.
Stouts & Porters
Before we go further: stouts ≠ porters. They aren’t the same, but they tend to have certain commonalities in style, pairing, and availability, with overlaps in dark grains and roasted malts as base ingredients. Both stouts and porters are dark in body and heavy in malt. Likewise, both styles are particularly pliable, allowing plenty of room for flavoring agents to color the overall brew. Since there are no particular laws that govern the two, the distinction between stouts and porters is especially nebulous, although porters tend to be somewhat sweet and earthier, while stouts are stronger and a bit stiffer.
Types of Stouts & Porters
Just like with any other style of beer, there are seemingly infinite varieties. For stouts, there are coffee, oyster, oatmeal, milk, and Irish variations to name a few. Porters feature many of the same variants, although Baltic porters have proven particularly popular over the years. Let’s look at two of the most popular styles:
- Barrel-Aged – While not unique to stouts or porters, barrel-aged beers are fermented in barrels, which flavor the beer. As barrels are often expensive for microbrewers, costs can be high. Likewise, the interaction between the brew and the barrel often leads to higher ABVs, but lower IBUs. A barrel-aged stout is a great complement to a dessert, an after-dinner treat that caps off a nice meal.
- Pastry-Stouts – Pastry stout/porter variety including flavors like dark chocolate, chai, or vanilla. It might seem like pastry stouts and porters would pair with desserts, but they work best as a counterbalance to more acidic foods like barbecue or with Mexican fare. Pricing varies, but these tend to be stronger drinks meaning the ABV is high and kegs are a bit more costly.
In terms of craft beers, pale ales rank among the most popular with many in prominent top-ten lists. Most pale ale styles are hop-heavy, an ingredient that notable for its bitterness. While hops are an ingredient in all beers, they are usually balanced with different grains or malts to accent different tastes. Part of their popularity is that pale ales are easy to find, often affordable, and pair well with pub fare.
Types of Pale Ales
In addition to a basic pale ale, there are myriad variations on the style, including India pale ales (IPAs), Scotch ales, and English bitters. A subset of pale ales, IPAs were originally brewed as exports to British colonies abroad. Taking off in popularity over time, IPAs have been experimented with for centuries. There are many varieties of IPAs as well, from black IPAs to triple IPAs. Let’s look at some of the most popular for your restaurant craft beer selection below:
- Hazy IPAs – Also known as a New England IPA, hazy IPAs use hops that produce a dense body, tropical flavor, and juicy finish, pairing well with dishes that are onion rich and crisp.
- Milkshake IPAs – One of the primary distinguishing features of a milkshake IPA is the use of lactose or milk sugar in the fermentation process. The end result is a creamy IPA that has hints of the bitterness inherent in the style that pairs ideally with steak, barbecued meats, or smoked foods.
- West Coast IPA – The last in our restaurant craft ber guide trio of modern pale ale variants, west coast IPAs offer a comparatively traditional take on the style. Another hop-forward variety, a west coast IPA offers a counterpoint to the hazy variant, while still emphasizing bitterness and subtle floral or tropical notes. Of all of the variations, this best complements spicy foods.
Sour beers are an intentionally tart, fermented style with a funky taste. For brewers, crafting a sour beer is treacherous, as it involves wild yeasts to ferment, which if not carefully administered can infect their entire brewing system, thus souring all of their other beers as well. Due to that risk, sour beers are comparably rare for brewers unprepared, but with rising popularity an increasingly accessible restaurant craft beer variety.
Types of Sours
From lambics to goses there are plenty of sour variants. Bear in mind that because of the risk factor in their production, these aren’t always widely available beers. If you happen to get something special, make it part of your restaurant marketing plan, as sours may very well draw out beer enthusiasts to try out a pint:
- Gose – So named for its creation in Goslar, Germany, gose sours did not satisfy purity laws at the time they were created, making them ideal for homebrewing. There is an acidic taste in sours that provides the tanginess to the brew, which pairs wonderfully with sea-food or salty dishes.
- Berliner-Weisse – A sour style that is light on wheat grains and often double fermented, berliner-weisse brews are tart and often flavored with fruit syrups or alcohol bitters. This style is great as an aperitif, pairing well with salty snacks like pretzels or chips.
The Best of the Rest
There are many types of beers, and we’ve hit on some of the most common trends above. Still, to round out our list of the popular restaurant craft beers by shining the spotlight on a few that don’t quite fit into an easy category all on their own. While nothing listed below are directly related to one another, they are all easy to find, and affordable craft brew varieties. Let’s look at a few that deserve special attention:
- Saison – Another pale ale variant, saisons have taken on a life of their own. Meaning “season” in French, saisons are great spring-time beers that feature a light-colored body and moderate ABV. Saisons are typically spiced with coriander, orange zest, or even ginger, and complement Asian or Middle-Eastern dishes well.
- Hefeweizen – Hefeweizens are particularly wheaty beers with a blonde hue and an often mild ABV. This style includes notes of banana and vanilla and features a soft mouthfeel. Serve this with crisp seafood dishes or hearty Italian fare.
- Brown Ale – There are many types of brown ales, most of which feature a deep brown, unfiltered body, and earthy notes of caramel or chocolate. Try this with darker meats and mushrooms.
Restaurant Craft Beer Guide Conclusion
With over 100 varieties of beer, there is no way we can cover all of that in one article. Instead, we focused on the most common and popular varieties of craft beers, that will leave guests ready for more. Did we miss something that you think should be included in our restaurant craft beer list? Are there any pairings too fantastic to pass up? We want to know. Leave a comment below and we’ll continue to update our list over time.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.