By Justin Dolezal, Foodable Contributor
It's no secret that the craft beer industry is booming, and that consumer interest in beer has never been higher. This increase in interest and demand has led to a surge in the creation of craft breweries, who (in most cases) are focused on bringing a wide range of exciting, thoughtfully crafted products to consumers. Restaurateurs have taken note, and most restaurants now offer a curated beer list and employ people with the knowledge to provide pairing advice and offer recommendations based on customers' tastes.
Taking advantage of craft beer's new and deserved spot at the restaurant beverage table doesn't have to stop with a tap-list, however. An exciting trend has sprung up among restaurants eager to take advantage of craft beer's popularity: the beer pairing dinner. These events can showcase a restaurant's menu, offer an exciting and enticing experience to new and existing customers, and show off beer's versatility as a pairing beverage. Let's explore the keys to putting on a successful craft beer dinner. Done correctly, they could be the next big hit at your restaurant.
Choosing the Beer: Local is Best
Restaurateurs hoping to execute a successful craft beer dinner should begin by asking themselves what they want to accomplish. Is the focus on community? Highlighting seasonal ingredients? Exposing consumers to exciting menu items? Aligning with a hot new brewery? The ideal beer pairing dinner should accomplish all of these things.
The first step is to select your beers. While in some cases you may decide to bring in beers from far away, such as a pairing highlighting a specific nation's styles or an event highlighting an existing brewery's introduction to your marketplace, it's generally best to stay close to home. One of the most exciting aspects of the proliferation of craft breweries in this country is that most restaurants should have access to a brewery producing high-quality beer without having to travel too far. Your city, town, or even neighborhood likely has a great brewery inside its borders, a fact restaurateurs should jump to take advantage off.
The benefit is twofold: in addition to easing planning and preparation, your consumer base will be eager to support their local breweries, making for enhanced consumer interest. Cross promotion to your consumer base is another advantage. From the brewery's perspective, pairing with a local eatery provides many of the same benefits, and they'll likely be eager to take advantage. The craft brewing industry in this country has almost universally embraced civic and regional pride as one of its keystones, no doubt in response to the push-back against the faceless, soulless products produced by the macro-beer industry.
So you've formed a partnership with a local craft beer darling. The next step is to decide what kind of menu you want to create. A multi-course tasting menu is a great way to proceed, as you'll have the flexibility to offer several different pairings, including a salad, a light appetizer, an entree, a cheese course, and a dessert. Each of these courses offer fantastic beer pairing possibilities.
Next, decide on a theme for the meal. Creating a pairing with a local brewery is often incentive enough to draw in consumers, but you can add an extra level of intrigue and excitement by giving your meal a particular focus. Seasonality is a fantastic starting point, as your chef's enthusiasm about using seasonal ingredients will likely be matched by your companion brewery, who likely has a style or two that they role out with seasonal focus in mind (barleywines in winter or pumpkin beers in fall are two prime examples). You can also have great success highlighting a single ingredient and forming a multi-course meal to highlight that ingredient. Pairings like these show off both the versatility of your restaurant, as well as the versatility of beer as a pairing agent.
Put It All Together
Once a thematic concept has been agreed upon, all that's left is to prepare the dishes and start tasting! Though a brewery may give some input in terms of what kind of dishes they'd most ideally be able to work with, beer is pretty flexible, and as such the restaurant can select what kind of dishes to create for the pairing. Though ingredients and dishes will of course vary, here are some general pairing tips that can be used as starting points:
Match Intensity: Simply put, your food and the beer paired with it should produce a balanced interplay, with neither the beer nor the food dominating the other. To this end, pair salads and light fish courses with lighter beers, such as pilsners. Thinking of including something rich and intense, such as prime rib or pungent blue cheese? You'll need a beer that can stand up to it, such as a deep Imperial Stout or a malty Dopplebock.
Find Complementary Flavors: Find flavors in both your food and beer that work well together, highlighting their finest qualities. A light spring salad garnished with citrus fruit should marry beautifully with a German Gose, a slightly tart, salty German wheat ale. Similarly, the Maillard reaction that produces the delectable flavors of a roasted pork loin can also be found in the rich, roasted malt flavors in an Imperial Red Ale.
Find Contrasting Flavors: More challenging (or more exciting, depending on your point of view) than complementary flavors, finding contrasting flavors consists of finding pairings that seem like odd bedfellows, but in the end produce fantastically delicious offspring. Dry Irish Stouts may seem like an odd pairing with oysters, for example, but the way that the beer can coax out the gentle sweetness of bivalves has made this pairing a classic. Contrasting pairings can also provide textural enhancements. A rich, decadent chocolate cake could pair well with an equally decadent beer, but try pairing that cake instead with a Framboise, a traditional Belgian raspberry lambic. The acidity of the beer will help cut through the richness of the cake, while the fruity sweetness of the raspberry can provide a companion point, keeping the pairing from seeming too left field.
Though these tips provide general guidelines, creating a beer pairing dinner should be about finding unique excitements in the dishes that you create. The best way to find something incredible is to get in the kitchen with a few glasses of beer and experiment. The end result should be an exciting event for your restaurant that won't soon be forgotten.