Beer is taken seriously in culinary circles today. Now a restaurant is judged for their craft beer offerings, not unlike how their wine list has been judged over the years. If a customer walks in and only sees macro brews and commonplace choices – that makes an impression about the food before they’ve even ordered. Great restaurants with great food never have a terrible wine list, it’s time the commonplace beer list is a thing of the past.
Upscale restaurants and gastropubs pay exhaustive attention to their draft and bottle lists, and debate flavor profiles when accompanied by each dish. The craft movement continues to accelerate each year, restaurants need to educate not only themselves but their wait staff on all fronts, capitalize on beer offerings and ensure boundless sales opportunities.
First things first, learn what is what – there are over 100 varieties of beer! America is home to more styles and brands than any other market in the world. Determined by the type of yeast they are made with they are either an ale or a lager, but this does not describe color, strength or flavor.
Style – Ales
Ale yeast gathers and ferments at the top (hence, “top fermented”) of the vessel, at a high temperature so the yeast acts quickly. Some finish fermenting in less than two weeks. Ales are rich and complex, with more yeast-derived flavors than lagers.
Pale Ale – American or English, the “pale” was clipped on long ago to distinguish it from the dark color of Porters. American and English styles differ, but generally they are gold or copper colored and dry with crisp hop flavor.
India Pale Ale (IPA) – Pale ale with intense hop flavor and aroma and slightly higher alcohol content. It gained alcohol content as it continued to ferment on its trip frm Britain to India.
Brown Ale – These distinctively northern English style ales have a strong, malty center and can be nutty, sweet and very lightly hopped. They are medium bodied and the name matches the color of the ale.
Stout – Thick, black opaque and rich. Stouts draw their flavor and color from roasted barley. They often taste of malt and caramel, with little to no hop aroma or flavor.
Porter – Very similar to stout but made from, or largely from, unroasted barley. Sweet and dark brown in color with hints of chocolate and a sometimes-sharp bitterness.
Wheat Beer – German beer (to be authentic) is required by law to use top-fermenting yeast in wheat beer. It must be made from at least 50% wheat malt. Wheat proteins contribute to a hazy, or cloudy appearance and are commonly unfiltered, leaving yeast sediment in the bottle. They are light colored, full flavored and the unique yeast strains produce flavors like banana, clove and vanilla.
Hefeweisen – This popular style of wheat beer is regularly served in the U.S. with a lemon wedge to cut the intense yeast flavor.
Style – Lagers
Lager yeast sinks to the bottom of the vessel and ferments at a colder temperature than ale yeast, slowing the process down. At a colder temperature, bottom-fermenting yeast produces fewer “esters” (flavor compounds, basically). This creates a mild, crisp and clean tasting beer. Lager is the German word meaning “to store”. Lagering softens flavors and texture. The flavor profiles lager types are more defined:
Amber/Red Lager – More malt and darker than their lighter lager relatives, usually amber to copper colored. Flavor profiles vary considerably between breweries. Nine times out of ten when a beer label says no more than “Lager” it is an amber.
Pilsner – Conceived in Czechoslovakia, easily the world’s most popular beer style. Pilsners are pale, straw colored and crisp with medium body and more hops than traditional lager, but typically smooth and clean.
Bock – Of German origin, brewed in the fall to be enjoyed in the winter or spring. A stronger lager with heavy malt, medium to full bodied, lightly hopped and dark amber to brown in color.
Oktoberfest – indicates the Vienna style of “Marzen” beer, the German word for “March”. These are brewed in the spring and stored to serve in autumn. They have a toasted quality with a sweet tinge, robust malt flavors, and a deep amber hue
Taste the beer. Sounds obvious, but if the bartender or server doesn’t know what they taste like, how are they going to sell it? Before you taste, or host a tasting, here are some things you should know.
- Drinking water and french style bread or pretzels to cleanse the palate.
- Clean glasses (pint, or even a white wine glass).
- The kegerator (beer refrigerator) should keep the beer temperature as follows: Lagers 38-45° F, Ales 50° F, Strong Ales 55-60° F
How to Pour
Hold the glass at a 45° angle and pour down the side of the glass. Once it is 1/2 full hold it straight and pour the rest of the beer down the middle. Never stick the faucet into the foam. The 1/2” collar of foam at the top is important to the taste of the beer. The foam releases aroma, we taste with our eyes, then our smell, and finally with our mouth.
Take time to breathe deep and smell the beer. Think about the different things you smell (hops, malt, nuttiness etc.). Then take a sip, letting the beer flood your mouth, around your tongue, this assures every edge of your taste palate is ignited. Then finally, swallow.
After a good tasting, you can easily forget what you learned. If understanding what you like is as important to you, as in customer satisfaction and sales, we suggest you take notes.
Now you’ll be on your way to serve your customers from a knowledge standpoint. Customers appreciate knowledgeable wait staff. The appreciation of the wait staff will be demonstrated at the end when the check is presented.