Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back again to beer lists, wine lists and 4-star designations.

Appearing today was my fourth mini-column in the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO):

Mug Shots: Beer list should equal wine list

Three hundred words still strikes me as little more than a fair-to-middling topic sentence, but in truth, there’s much good coming from the discipline that brevity demands.

The subject is something I’ve been raging about for quite some time, and came up a while back on the Louisville Restaurants Forum. The thread can be viewed (somewhat – click the “quickview” box) here.

My opening lob was this:

Elsewhere it was mentioned that there are certain expectations for 4-star dining, among them being a serious wine program, and yet how many purported 4-star restaurants offer mass market swill as their beer selection? Why is it that fine dining requires wine of a certain type, but not commensurate beer?

As is customarily the case when confronted with obviously crazy ideas originating way out in left field, the denizens of the board didn’t show much interest, so I returned with this:

In my continuing and admittedly stubborn effort to make the point, I'm going to return to this thread. I've spent the past hour perusing the on-line menus of the city's top tables, at least those in the upper numerical echelon of Robin Garr’s ratings system, in search of beer lists.

Not unexpectedly, they're few and far between, which from the outset confirms my observation that "top" restaurants eager to fulfill expectations pertaining to the wine list seldom apply the same principles to beer.

Eventually, I landed on a beer list from a very nice establishment. While perhaps not a top ten eatery in town, is nonetheless is the type of place you would not go wearing a t-shirt and expecting to get a 99-cent Big Buford Jr., i.e., I've spent $75 there before just on my meal without the beverage tariff. Accordingly, the wine program is lovingly detailed, and we are told that several hundred types of wine are available.

Here's the beer list: Amstel Light, Bass, Buckler (N/A), Bud Light, Budweiser, Coors Light, Heineken, Hoegaarden, Michelob Ultra, Miller Lite, Pacifico, Guinness, Pilsner Urquell.

Now, here's my point.

In terms of worldwide beer styles, out of maybe 70+ now internationally recognized and available locally, here we have a grand total of 5: 8 standard golden lagers, 1 stout, 1 pilsner, 1 British pale ale, and 1 Belgian wit. Buckler doesn't count; there’s no alcohol.

Not that it needs to be pointed out, but in large measure, the eight golden lagers taste exactly alike.

A response was offered:

Well, Roger, you probably won't like my answer, but from a consumer's point of view I just don't think I will ever consider "beer" and "upscale dining" in the same sentence. Even fine craft beer. First it’s an image thing. A fine glass of wine in a Reidel stemmed glass is a thing of art. I prefer reds, so I'm picturing rich claret swirling in my glass, sitting on a crisp white table linen. Beautiful. Beer in a pilsner or mug just doesn't evoke the same artful image.

And secondly if I'm out with my DH, having a fabulous dinner, I don't drink carbonated. Fills up the tummy too fast and then I get the burps. A lady just doesn't sound as ladylike with the burps . . .

I only needed to make contact to lash that one down the line for two bases – and maybe more.

You won't like my answer to your answer, but here goes. This is emphatically not a personal attack; I'm merely addressing your arguments, as I find them indicative … and, mistaken.

There is no difference in terms of imagery between the wine and glassware you describe and my vision of a Chimay Grand Reserve Trappist Ale served in the appropriate goblet alongside a medium-rare steak. Your comparison with a mug is a straw man in terms of argumentation. Appropriate beer wouldn't be served in a mug in such a context, just as your wine would not be served in styrofoam.

It's also framing beer in the least desirable way to operate on the assumption that all beer is carbonated so as to induce the stereotypical Homer Simpson belch. Remember that Homer is drinking mass market swill from a mug. You'll not experience the same level of carbonation in bottle-conditioned Belgians or higher gravity specialties of the sort that best accompany food.

In short, you inadvertently prove my point, which is that ignorance about beer in a fine dining context is the reason for its absence, and that the responsibility is shared between consumers who won't glance outside the box, as well as restaurateurs who'll not challenge the clientele with beer as they do with other libations.


Iamhoosier said...

I remember the Hop-it(sp), with that beautiful head, from the last Gravity Head Fest. I actually use a picture of it, lifted from your site, as wallpaper on my computer. More beautiful than any glass of wine and I like my wine just fine.

smoosh said...

Yeah, Roger. She kind of threw you a softball. Into my mind popped your entire response, almost verbatim. Send her here -