Thursday, January 03, 2008

A thread: Can a great restaurant serve mass-market beer?

There's been an interesting thread going at the Louisville Restaurants Forum: Can a great restaurant serve mass-market beer?

Here is one question asked, followed by the answer I provided. It isn't tremendously grammatical, but I was in a hurry.


Can you give me some examples of what would be high quality beers that should be served at a high quality restaurant?

I've thought about this a lot at various times, and the answer tends to change based on recent experiences.

The fundamental thing is to offer a variety of styles, not just a variety of labels/brands. Knowing the difference between styles and labels is the first jumping off point for me.

So ... in no particular order of preference …

Lagers (bottom fermented; clean character)

A true Pilsner with hop character, i.e., Pilsner Urquell; fewer micros attempt this, but if we could get Victory's Prima Pils ...

Dark lager with balls, like Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel. Amber and malty Oktoberfests fit here, too, but probably should be seasonal.

Doppelbock: Rich, sweet, malty, meant for meat. You haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed Bavarian-style pork knuckle with Doppelbock.

Ales (top fermented; far wider potential flavor spectrum)

Belgian-style Wit (white/wheat), and Blue Moon does not count. Hoegaarden remains serviceable. Citrusy; hint of sourness.

German style wheat: Schneider or Weihenstphaner, although I suppose Franziskaner is acceptable even if the character is too mild for me. Cloves, apples and bananas.

Belgian Trappist (Chimay red or blue, et al) ... dark, bottle conditioned, vinous, complex malt.

Assorted Belgians and French Bieres de Garde. Among the former, sour reds (Rodenbach), eclectic Wallonians (La Chouffe, McChouffe) and wondrous Saisons (Dupont the finsets example); the French beers are criminally underrated and simply wonderful with many dishes. Ask Chef Clancy if you don’t believe me. American examples of both Belgian and French styles include Ommegang Hennepin, Jolly Pumpkin’s line and Two Brothers Domaine Dupage (sic).

Imperial Stout. Thick, black, intense, oily, viscous. Many good microbrewed versions. Functions much like Port with assertive cheeses, and modifies sweet desserts.

American-style hop bombs, double IPA, etc. Bitterness for contrast, and can also be quaffed sans food.

Local microbrews. To me, preferably on draft, and maybe rotating. Louisville is blessed with excellent small breweries (and there’s Alltech, and many more in Indiana, as Shawn noted).


Think in terms of style and the possibilities are endless. I didn’t mention everyday dry Stout of the Guinness mold, which remains beautiful with shellfish, and I’m assuming that there always will be a few yellow Eurolagers around for the plain fearful; as I wrote previously, you simply don’t need Budweiser if you have Stella or Spaten.

The point remains that a very good 15-20 beer list can be constructed from what is available locally, and it will cover most of the contingencies. Seasonals can make up the difference.

Earlier someone brought up Maido as an example of a great beer list, and I agree 100%. Using conventional wisdom, you’re washing down diverse sushi and voluminous wasabi with weak golden lager, but chase them with Stone’s hoppy Ruination Ale and it’s a religious experience, indeed.

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