By Justin Dolezal, Foodable Contributor
The craft beer movement has exploded in recent years, in terms of both quality and popularity. The movement shows no signs of slowing down, as new breweries are constantly opening, offering a range of diverse and delicious products to consumers who are all too happy to pay for quality brews. The days of being able to offer a few different macro-beers along with Blue Moon as a “craft” option are over. This provides both a problem and an exciting opportunity for bar owners and restaurateurs: patrons want more high quality beer, and they want options. Luckily, there are far more styles of beer than taps available at the average bar, and selecting between quality beer options is an enviable task indeed. If your establishment serves food, you have an even greater opportunity, as beers can be selected which will complement and elevate your menu items. The following is a list of beer styles that every bar or restaurant should keep on hand.
A German/Czech Pilsner:
A quality pilsner, preferably from either Germany or the Czech Republic, is a must for any beer menu. They're refreshing, pair fantastically with a range of foods, and offer a sophisticated alternative for the Budweiser/PBR crowd. Not that their appeal doesn't extend beyond entry level craft beer drinkers - these are beers whose lineage extends back hundreds of years. Artisans in both countries have used that time to create near-perfect beers that the most educated beer drinkers in the world can (and often do) take pleasure in ordering. Go Czech for an accessible malt/hop balance, go German for a more spicy, floral hop bite.
Another traditional European style that's been honed over the course of centuries. But where German and Czech brewers have generally aimed for purity and consistency in their beers, Belgians have produced an overwhelming array of styles, any of which represent a quality addition to a beer menu. And if your establishment serves food, these beers become even more essential. A quick and easy edict for those seeking to pair beer and food: Belgian beer is your friend. Pleasantly sweet, well attenuated, and full of flavor, Belgian beers are like the guy from high school who was captain of the football team, lead in the school musical, and still humbly got along with everyone. Saisons in particular are a wonderfully complex wild card: flavorful enough to take on main dishes, light and lively enough for salads and fish, and spicy enough for Middle-Eastern/Asian cuisine. Make no mistake though: a quality saison is a joy to drink and ponder over without food.
If you're serving grilled or roasted meats, this beer should be a no-brainer. Rich and malty, dopplebocks bring big toasted caramel malt flavors that pair fantastically with big, savory meat dishes. They also represent a quality and somewhat eclectic option on the higher end of the alcohol-by-volume scale. Lots of bars will carry imperial stouts or strong ales; a dopplebock as an option will make your beer list stand out.
Forgive the informality, but, duh. Odds are you have a few of these already, as a number of your customers would likely stare at you blank-faced if you told them you didn't have one available. IPAs are popular for a reason: the fruity, tropical pine flavors imparted by American hop varieties makes them a crowd pleaser that isn't just a pretty face. They also offer a nice range in terms of alcohol strength, extending from the recently-ubiquitous Session IPA (often sub-5% ABV) to imperial examples of the style, which can reach alcohol by volume levels in the double digits. Additionally, you're going to want to support localism and have a few beers from you local community on your beer menu. The popularity of the style means that there's probably a fantastic IPA being brewed close to your establishment. Pair with spicy foods for an intense flavor experience.
A Sour/Wild Ale:
Ales spontaneously soured with native yeasts and naturally occurring bacteria have been brewed and enjoyed in the Zenne valley of Belgium for centuries, and, thankfully, the rest of the world is starting to catch on. These beers are wonderfully complex, and their high acidity makes them a great pairing partner for both complimentary fruit dishes and contrasting fatty meats, such as duck or glazed pork. All examples will be somewhat sour, ranging from pleasantly tart and salty German Gose to intensely sour Belgian Gueze, a beer produced by blending multiple lambics of varying ages. Though Belgian examples represent the zenith of the style, quality examples are being produced domestically as well.
An Imperial Stout/Barleywine:
Big, flavorful beers with a high alcohol content shouldn't just be saved for winter. Imperial Stouts display coffee, dark chocolate, and roasted malt flavors, while Barleywines are often sweeter, with notes of toffee, dried fruits, and caramel. Traditional English Barleywines may even display an oxidized, sherry-like quality. Brewers have recently begun aging these high gravity beers in whiskey, wine, and rum barrels, adding an extra layer of depth and complexity.