Berrong on Beer - Why do restaurants neglect beer?
April 3rd, 2012
01:30 PM ET
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Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and this is the fifth installment of his beer column. He Tweets at @nathanberrong and logs beers at Untappd. Drink up.

Amazing beer and great food are two things near and dear to my heart, but it’s often hard to find both at the same place. I find that pub food is generally OK, maybe the best restaurant in town serves Guinness and gastropubs are headed in the right direction.

But what about those times you want olive oil poached salmon with a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA? Where are those restaurants?

If you’re a wine drinker, you cannot relate to this. Food and wine have shared an incredibly long and successful run together and it’s time to give beer the same respect. A good restaurant cannot survive, or even have relevance, without a great wine list. But as patrons we’ve largely ignored the short shrift restaurants give to beer.

If a restaurant doesn’t have a carefully thought out beer menu, they are failing to understand their audience, the food and drink culture of today, and the range of flavors present in so many beers. I’m baffled when I go into a nice restaurant and the beer list mirrors the offerings of the convenience store down the street. The lack of consistency bothers me the most. A restaurant is too good to serve Sutter Home yet Budweiser and Heineken have their place on the menu?

All is not bleak in the world of fine dining and great beer, though. There are establishments all over the country that are doing it very well. San Francisco’s Monk’s Kettle has pairing for years and chef and owner Adam Dulye is the beer world’s unofficial chef de cuisine. Recent James Beard Awards finalist, Stephanie Izard, has given craft beer its proper place at the table at her renowned restaurant Girl and the Goat in Chicago.

On a recent visit to New York I had an incredible meal at Hearth and the highlight of my meal was grilled octopus with a Cantillon Fou Foune. Denver’s ChoLon has taken a more local approach with chef Lon Symeson and business partner Jim Deters serving beers from local brewery (and one of my personal favorites), Great Divide.

Decatur, Georgia’s, Cakes & Ale takes the beer and food relationship official with chef and owner Billy Allin even naming the restaurant after a Shakespeare quote that nods to both. I recently spoke with Allin, a 2012 James Beard Awards semi-finalist, about his thoughtful approach to beer and food.

Nathan Berrong: What made you start Cakes & Ale with a focus on serving good beer?

Billy Allin: My knowledge of beer was limited until we opened the restaurant four years ago. The craft beer movement was basically in its infancy in Atlanta, and when the laws changed concerning alcohol content it was like the flood gates opened.

This opened the market to so many great producers and allowed the consumer to taste beers they never had before. The Decatur market, in particular, was already very beer savvy and it seemed natural to really make an effort to offer some of the exciting beers available.

NB: Does food pair just as well with beer as it does wine?

BA: I think it does pair equally as well and better in some cases. Beer can be extremely complex and be more likely to have several taste aspects that go well with a particular dish where a wine may have only a single element and in many cases deals with its level of acidity.

NB: Why are there so many great restaurants in America that neglect beer but focus so heavily on wine?

BA: Beer, though not for that much longer, is viewed as less a special occasion drink than wine. With the number of breweries offering special releases and more complex options I think more restaurants will look at beer as a special occasion drink.

NB: Any parting thoughts on the relationship between food and beer?

BA: As more and more breweries push the flavor profiles of beer and rethink the ingredient list things can only get better. I think right now it is almost in the mad scientist and experimental stage and that is great for the industry and consumer. The next stage is where the producers take a step back and look for balance and the brewer that finds that level consistently will be at the forefront of the next stage. My whole goal as a chef/restaurateur is to offer what tastes great and sparks interest in a guest and beer is very quickly catching on as an alternative to wine in dining .

My plea to restaurateurs

Chef Allin gets it. My hope is that others in the food world soon will too and start exploring the possibilities that beer can bring to the dinner table.

So, to the accomplished chefs, restaurant owners, restaurateurs, and all the ones just now coming onto the scene, here’s my plea: put the same effort, dedication, and money into the beer you serve, as you do your wine program. If you do, I think you’ll be astounded at the results.

As a restaurant patron, experiment with different beer styles and find out the ones that go best with your favorite foods and then go from there. If your favorite restaurant in town isn’t serving good beer, politely ask them to.

Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite dishes and a beer and style I think goes well with each one. Cheers to eating and drinking well.

A few of my favorite pairings:

Raw oysters and Harpoon Island Creek Oyster Stout (Oyster Stout)

North Carolina style pulled pork sandwiches and Russian River Supplication (Wild Ale)

Brisket enchiladas and Victory Hop Devil (IPA)

Seared duck and Ommegang Three Philosophers (Quadrupel)

Pork belly steamed buns and Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (Hefeweizen)

Charcuterie and Samuel Adams Cinder Bock (Rauchbier)

Lamb korma and Saison Dupont (Saison)

Poutine and Westmalle Trappist Dubbel (Dubbel)

Stinky bleu cheese and Great Divide Old Ruffian (Barleywine)

Mexican chocolate macaron and Southern Tier Choklat (Imperial Stout)

Do you have a favorite beer and food pairing? If so, I’d love to hear about in the comments.

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soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. Brittney

    Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre and a rare NY Strip Steak

    April 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  2. Buddy

    Most of the high-end restaurants in Philly serve great craft beer. Beer dinners at these restaurants aren't uncommon either. But hey, that's what it's like in the best beer city in the country.

    April 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  3. FirstAve

    WISCONSIN BEER!!!

    April 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  4. Liz

    The servers and bartenders also need to get educated. If there is no education, you can't sell your product properly. Sam Merritt , Civilization of Beer, gives a great class for Beer Sommeliers. Every beer joint should do this. http://conta.cc/GRFl9f

    April 6, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  5. King

    Many years ago my wife and I were in Missoula MT after going to Glacier Park. Went to a pizza place in town. Of all things, they had Watney's Red Barrel on tap. A wonderful meal.

    April 5, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Liz Adinaro

      Yes, great beer is king, KIng! but the servers and bartenders also need to get educated. If there is no education, you can't sell your product properly. Sam Merritt gives a great class for Beer Sommeliers. Every beer joint should do this. http://conta.cc/GRFl9f

      April 6, 2012 at 9:27 am |
      • Liz

        sorry for repeat post, computer issue

        April 6, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  6. Scott Wallace

    Caprese with a nice hoppy IPA. It's addictive.

    April 5, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  7. EP Sato

    This article is totally off. Does Berong even get out of Atlanta?

    Cripes! In DC, there are several high end restaurants that focus on beer and food pairings. Granville Moore's on H Street and Brassarie Beck are both Belgian style restaurants that feature food and beer pairings. On 14th Street, we have Churchkey.

    Even on the non-gourmet side, we've got spots that pair beers with food. Spike Mendelsohn's good stuff eatery pairs craft and imported beers with high end burgers, and he pairs several tasty lagers with pizza at his We the Pizza Restaurant.

    Richmond, VA has a place called "The Beer Run", which is a mecca for hop heads. They've also got an amazing menu if you choose to dine in rather than take the beers home.

    So there you have it. Off the top of my head I can think of three solid restaurants in DC alone that offer food and beer pairings. Beer's gaining a foothold, but writers who fail to leave Atlanta are likely to miss out on what the rest of the country is up to....AHEM Berong!

    April 5, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Beer lover

      Belga Cafe & Locolat in DC do beer tastings periodically. Great beer paired with great food and desserts!! Check them out.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Curt

      3. In all of DC. Compare that to the number of restaurants that do wine pairings and you made Nathan's point for him. I also live in Atlanta, and I can quickly think of at least 10 restaurants that do beer pairings. But again, that's 10. We have hundreds of restaurants here like any city. Nathan's point is not that beer savvy restaurants aren't out there, but that the quantity pales in comparison to the number of wine savvy restaurants. Also, that so many restaurants will serve high quality food right next to extremely low quality beer. Try ordering a Sutter Home White Zinfandel at any white tablecloth restaurant. I bet you get some funny looks. Next, try ordering a Heineken or a Stella. I bet you get your terrible beer. Why the discrepancy?

      April 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  8. Jason

    Boiled Crawfish and Abita Amber

    April 5, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  9. BigAl

    beer and hamburgers, beer and hot dogs, beer and pizza, beer and mexican food, end of list pairings.

    April 5, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • DMA

      This is why you are probably big, fat and have not taste. Drink you Bud Pee water

      April 5, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  10. Oak tree road restaurant

    Bombay Talk restaurant has earned a reputation for over 30 years of experience in the food. which also includes the famous Via Oak Tree road restaurant are Khasiyat, Paradise Biryani.
    Oak tree road restaurant

    April 5, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  11. miscreantsall

    Beer is the drink of the Barbarians (those brutish Vikings)! NO respect!

    Wine is the drink of the Civilized (southern parts of Europe)!

    Silly stuff…..who cares?

    April 5, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • Beer = Civilization

      Actually beer is the reason that civilization exists. You couldn't have large groups of people in one place without beer because all the water gets contaminated. Beer is boiled, thus killing any bugs in the water.

      It is documented that the Ancient Egyptians paid workers building the pyramids in beer.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:07 am |
      • Jameson

        Not to mention that bones of ancient civilizations actually showed that their beer contained elements of antibiotics that helped keep the people healthy...I guess Alexander Flemming officially discovered penicillin, but it existed in beer well before his time.

        Screw the restaurants, the people that need to wake up to beer culture are the Bible thumpers who are convinced that you're going to hell for drinking a beer (obviously they can't read, Jesus turned water into wine [Arabic or English there is no distinguishment between fermented and unfermented wine in the bible])...In Tennessee we need to repeal stupid "Sunday Blue laws" that are forced on people us due to someone else's religious beliefs. We need also need to increase the the limits on Alcohol content so that Grocery stores are allowed to carry High Gravity Beers. Also we need to eliminate counties from being able to say they are "dry." So dumb, people are going to drink alcohol period, so why direct revenues outside of your county?

        April 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  12. djk203

    Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs steamed with Old Bay vinegar and butter....with National Bohemian

    April 5, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • jzaks

      You hit the nail on the head.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  13. Zebula

    O'so Rusty Red and pizza for lunch anytime!

    April 4, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Karen

      Beer is great to cook meat with, or in fact some sauces...just love it anytime

      April 5, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  14. Tesla

    Free beer, free beer, that's my favorite brand.
    If I didn't have to buy it, it's the best beer in the land!
    Warm, flat, funky; it don't matter to me,
    the greatest beer in this whole world is the one you buy for free!

    April 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  15. Adriana P

    Great point indeed! I have convinced my workplace Atelier Crenn to host a beer dinner next month. Very rare beers to come!

    April 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  16. oregonxnj

    Double Mountain Hop Lava IPA (Hood River, Oregon), grilled Angus burger with sweet potato fries.

    April 4, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  17. HollywoodPR

    Beer? Please. That's kids' stuff. Be a man: drink gin!

    April 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • hawkechik

      You do realize that "back in the day" gin was considered a woman's drink?

      April 5, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Hogarth

      Beer Street vrsus Gin Lane

      April 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  18. Bob

    There is a reason that beer is yellow, foamy and smells bad: it's yeast pi$$.

    April 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Bob...that's short for Roberta right?

      April 4, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
      • whoa there

        Bet you're quite the babe too VanHagar! Nothing says delightful bimbo like your sexism!

        April 4, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
        • VanHagar

          It was a joke–sorry if you were offended–wasn't intended to be a slight against women, just Bob's sissy post (oops, did I offend another affinity group?)

          April 5, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Joe

      What are you, 6? You honestly think all beer is yellow and smells like piss? Try an amber ale, a nice black stout....or you know what? Don't. Just go on thinking that Heineken is the nicest beer on earth.

      April 4, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • DUSE

      Wassup, Troll!!! Most of the beer I drink is not yellow. I pour it so it is not foamy, and it sure doesn't smell bad. In fact malt, and especially hops, smell as good as brownies to me. So your whole argument is blown out of the water. Click on a Nancy Grace article if you wish, but stay out of this one.

      April 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • mike

      more for me

      April 5, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  19. Michael Cweigenberg

    Chili beer by Cave Creek distributors paired with pizza from Bombay Pizza company in Houston / Sugar Land TX. I expect it would do well with any spicy offering incuding Cajun, Thai, and spicier Mexican dishes. It also helps you finish out those last couple hours at the end of a hard long day of yard work. The spicy / crisp flavor really cuts through the dry thirst that I developed after cutting on my giant Oak tree for 6-7 hours. Other customers at Bombay pizza really seemed enthusiastic about this beer as well. It was on $3.00 special that night and it was flying out of their cooler.

    April 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  20. A

    This article is spot on. And this is why I live in Colorado. I'm much more likely to find a place with suggested beer pairings than wine. Of course, I eat at a lot of brewpubs.

    April 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
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