How to Build a Beer Program Your Restaurant Can Be Proud Of

By Justin Dolezal, Foodable Contributor

Most restaurateurs would agree that a judgement of a restaurant based on its beverage program would be a fair, if somewhat incomplete, assessment. To that end, business owners are willing to spend and spend big on expansive, curated wine lists, as well as thoughtfully-designed, creative cocktail programs. Alcohol, as the French gourmand Brillat-Savarin so eloquently stated, “is the prince of liquids, and carries the palate to its highest pitch of exaltation.” Educated (and, frankly, less than educated) consumers are well aware of this dynamic, and providing them with drinks that will enhance their meal can make a good dining experience great.

It's a shame, then, that so few restaurants give a fraction of the attention paid to wine and spirits to their beer programs. While beer as haute cuisine may be a relatively recent phenomenon, it's ascending to a level of sophisticated consumption previously reserved for fine wine. And why not? The wide range of styles and flavor profiles available in the current craft beer environment make beer a fantastic pairing partner for almost every style of food, from hearty steaks to light spring salads. The carbonation naturally present in beer scrubs and enlivens the palate, keeping dishes exciting throughout their consumption. And compared to the amount required to maintain a respectable wine cellar, beer is a bargain. The tips below will help you create a beer program that is diverse, exciting, and enhances the dining experience your restaurant provides.

Glassware: It Matters

There are a lot of ways to let your customers know that you've put thought into your beer program; serving every beer in a cocktail shaker glass is not one of them. These glasses do little to enhance the flavor or aroma of beers, and should generally be avoided. Using proper glassware allows you to showcase the particular strengths of each beer style, while controlling volume for beers with higher price points or alcohol by volume. There are a plethora of options available, but you can generally get by with four different shapes.

Use a Stange or Pilsner glass for light, high clarity beers such as Kolsch or (obviously) pilsners, a Nonik or tulip pint glass for pales, ambers, weizens and porters, a stemmed tulip for IPAs, saisons, and Belgian Golden styles, and a small snifter for Imperial Stouts, strong ales, and lambics. Restaurants should also employ a three-sink glass-washing system which washes, rinses, and sanitizes glassware prior to drying. This ensures that beer is served in glassware that is clean and free of residual bubbles. Ever notice these on the inside of a beer glass? If so, send the beer back. The glass isn't clean.  Your patrons will see their beer before they ever smell or taste it; it's your responsibility to make sure that their first impression is a good one. 

Support Your Local Brewers

Locally sourced food has been a hot trend in Millennial dining for a while now, and the desire for cuisine and concepts based around regional fare shows no sign of waning anytime soon. Luckily, localism has been a concept strongly tied to the craft beer movement since its inception. Brewers often base their brand names, recipes, and events on their local communities, and consumers often display immense civic pride when it comes to supporting their local breweries. It's not essential that everything you serve come from within a stone's throw of your establishment, but maintaining a beer list that is at least forty-percent local will show consumers that you are engaged with your local community. Search for both established, highly regarded breweries in your area, as well as emerging breweries of which customers might be only vaguely aware. Tap takeovers and pairing events are another great way to collaborate with local breweries, and offer a fantastic opportunity for cross promotion.

Maintain Variety

It sounds so basic, doesn't it? Unfortunately, far too many restaurants are content to offer only a few styles, and end up with selections that are inoffensive at best and boring at worst. Keep your beer list varied, as a range of styles makes pairing easier and ensures that all but the pickiest customer should be able to find something they'll enjoy. Keep a range of light and dark beers, along with lower and higher ABV styles. We've already covered supporting local breweries, but don't be afraid to stock international examples of classic styles, like Czech Pilsners or German Hefeweizens.

Employ a Cicerone

Essentially the beer-equivalent to the Sommelier program, Ray Daniel's beer certification program was launched in 2008, aiming to elevate beer service by empowering individuals with the knowledge necessary to properly maintain, serve and recommend beer. Some beer bars have gone as far as mandating level one certification for all of their servers, and while this is laudable, having a single Cicerone (level 2) on hand to educate staff and manage your program can do wonders. These individuals will be well versed in food pairing, and can work with a chef to design a beer list that will complement your restaurant's menu. They are also capable of identifying off-flavors and beer flaws, and can maintain a clean and functioning draft system, both essential steps to ensuring that the beer you serve is in the best condition possible. Serving flawed beers is detrimental to both your establishment and the brewer that made the beer, so it's imperative that you make sure that your beers are being served in the best condition possible.