In vino veritas, part III: Microbrews

“In vino veritas” is a Latin expression that explicitly references wine. However, taken as a generalization, other alcoholic beverages are easily implied. Specifically, I want to address the growing microbrewery trend as a means of complementing and augmenting your wine list. And for those that aren’t in the know, by microbrewery, I’m referring to a small, craft beer-making company that produces less than 15,000 barrels per year. There are even hobbyist nanobrewers who produce less than 100 barrels because they like the process.

The concept of the micro or local brewery has existed for thousands of years, proliferating from the libation’s invention in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia then right through medieval times. However, beer was always considered more of a thirst quencher than a taste tester. Then came pasteurization, big national brands, imports and, overall, limited options. Until recently, beer has never really been a mark of classiness. And to discover the alchemic and sophisticated subtleties of unusual barley and hop combinations, you had to first travel to the more obscure regions of Ireland, Belgium, Holland, Germany or the Czech Republic.

Much like how everything else has changed in our interconnected world, so too has the beer industry. The Internet has played a big role in shattering the entry barriers for brewing. Keen brewers can instantly share recipes and techniques as well as find new ingredient sources and channels for distribution. Microbreweries are also a much more reliable startup than wineries or vineyards. They require far less land, labor and production time. Plus, a microbrewery is hardly dependent on erratic weather conditions, and can operate year round. These factors aside, microbrews still only account for roughly 5% of total beer consumption in the United States, but they are growing at a staggering rate relative to their mass-marketed counterparts.

Using American mainstays as an example, your restaurant’s beer choices could include the Budweiser, Coors and Miller varieties, or you could proffer something more eclectic. This is no insult to these major brands’ quality, but they are all so commonplace that they have become, well, boring. There’s no excitement. True, some people may only be in the mood for a good old-fashioned Bud Light, but would they be entirely opposed to a craft brew, especially if no major brands were on the menu?

Specialty drafts give you the chance to revitalize your menu with a little adventure and flair. It’s no longer just a pale ale, but a bitter yet smooth malt with floral hop aromas and a bold, refreshing finish. Does this remind you of any other beverage descriptions? Oftentimes, the wine list is given the full attention of the F&B staff, and the beer list suffers from neglect.

There are pale ales, lagers, pilsners, honey browns, red ales, amber ales, blondes, light beers, wheat beers, dark beers, porters, stouts and plenty of other more obscure flavors. Much like the underlying function of your wine list, your beer choices should serve to augment your overall F&B experience. Just as there’s a vintage to satisfy every person’s tastes and to pair with each meal, craft beers are headed in the same direction. Having to explain such options will take up a larger chunk of a waiter’s time and perhaps temporarily boggle a customer. Framing this positively, it’s a chance for the waiter to establish rapport with a curious patron and thus increase the perceived service level. (And just for trivia’s sake, a beer sommelier is named a cicerone.)

Microbrews are also an excellent way to support your local constituency. Your hotel might be located in or near a wine-producing region, but more often it is not. Breweries are essentially modified warehouses and can be situated practically anywhere.

I’m not suggesting that you turn your main restaurant or lobby bar into a brewpub. I’m merely proposing this as yet another unrealized point of differentiation. Fun and interesting beverage options can add to a guest’s dining experience and therefore improve the quality of their stay. Just food for thought — or should I say, beer for thought! (Lastly, note that all alcoholic beverages, no matter how esoteric, require prudence and “safe serve” management.)