Forty years ago Budweiser was one of the kings of beer. Not any more. Research has shown that there is a stepping up in the beverage wars as all generations tweak their tastes and become more knowledgeable about interesting brews being launched and settling onto the menus of gastropubs and premium restaurants alike. Is Annheiser-Busch nervous about losing market share to the wine and artisan beer industry? Perhaps. Its 2015 Super Bowl commercial touted the beauty of Bud over the craft beer craze, portraying artisanal beer drinkers as quirky and weird, “too highbrow” for their own good. YouTube commenters noted Bud’s fear-mongering and noted the irony that the company has been buying up craft breweries: hypocritical much?
It was on my yearly journey to Pete Seeger’s Clearwater Festival in Croton Point Park, New York a few years ago that I began to understand how craft beer had hooked the public’s imagination. At the festival I witnessed the refining of the public’s drinking experiences away from mass-market beers and toward the deeper concepts and context of craft beers with complementing lifestyles. The festival’s food court offered craft beers. Folks brought coolers and picnicked by the river as they ate, listening to the bands and drinking various micro-brewed beers. Pete Seeger sang and strummed his guitar at what was to be his last concert, and I chatted with a middle-aged boomer from upstate New York. He encouraged me to go to the protests supporting the ban on fracking.
At the time, massive rallies were being held to persuade New York’s Governor Cuomo that the people were seriously disgusted that gas companies might be allowed into the state to “frack” and endanger New York’s pristine water supply. I agreed that clean drinking water was paramount and I was supporting the protest. His reason why hydraulic fracturing must be banned had depth. He said, “I don’t want those “frackers” to be messing with my craft beers.” When people ban fracking because they are concerned about the quality of their artisanal beers, you know a trend is here to stay.
The panelists at Vino 2015‘s seminar on craft beer focused on how craft microbreweries have been springing up nationally and all over Europe, including Italy. They also discussed the extent to which there is a growing interest in pairing regional cuisines with interesting craft beers, and how this is impacting restaurants in a positive way. The panel included Jean K. Reilly MW of Reilly Wine Consulting; John Beaudette, President & CEO, MHW Ltd; Chairman NABI Garrett Oliver, the Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery; Annie B. Copps, Chef, Journalist and Educator; and Marco Mocellin, Educator, Salumi Specialist. In a lively and humorous discussion they noted the double-digit upsurge in craft beer sales and the downswing in commodity beer, which is perceived by millennials and others as problematic in terms of healthfulness, over-processing, and boring taste. Clearly, for those adhering to a healthy lifestyle, commodity or mass-produced beer, which has been one of the permanent stanchions of the industrial food and beverage complex, is unappealing to those who support a non-industrial, over-processed lifestyle.
When it comes to flavor and interest, craft beer offers discovery and innovation for the palate, appealing to a public that has fallen in love with melding beverages with complementary, delicious gastronomy. As micro-brewers continue to advance their unique specialties and tweak tastes from sour to citrus to tart, the public will be right behind, enjoying the roasted, smoked, ginger-infused beers that go well with salumi or cheese, clams, and of course, gourmet pizzas. If there is one element that defines craft brews it is variety. People who enjoy new tastes and like exploring interesting dishes and recipes in a flavorful pairing with beverages are finding that craft beers and wine are the ways to go.
Garrett Oliver, who has written a book about pairing food with beer, in a comical riff said that craft beer is probably one area where the 25-to-30-year-old public knows more than the restauranteur and can teach him or her a thing or two. Craft beers are the relaxed drink with the friendly, interesting packaging, but even a wine connoisseur is finding microbrews intriguing enough to sip and favor. For both types a huge turnoff in a restaurant would be to check out the beverage offerings and see only Corona or another commodity beer offered; it’s a giveaway that the food probably isn’t that great either.
More restaurants are offering with their wine lists their craft beer lists, and restauranteurs are finding that wine drinkers are tasting brews and craft beer drinkers are interested in upgrading their wine palettes. Brooklyn Brewery and other microbreweries provide the craft brews for Mario Batali’s restaurants, Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, and Eleven Madison Park to name a few. Craft beer is not only springing up in Michelin-starred restaurants, it is being offered in your mid-priced, mid-range restaurants because the average customer wants to be educated and is curious about stretching his or her culinary range. We have by now become knowledgeable enough to realize that the wines and the artisan beers that can be seamlessly paired with sumptuous fare enhance one’s overall culinary experience. Next time you’re dining out, ask to see both the beer and the wine list and be open to what you hear about food pairings. You may be as surprised as I was when I stepped out and tried something new.
*Amarcord Riserva Special is an artisan beer that is a tribute to Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning films. It makes a perfect pairing with Pecorino cheese, duck, pâté, and pork and rabbit dishes, but also with oysters and white fish. It is even great as an aperitif or for special occasions.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1137278765][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1616086793][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0957140991][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B001BCFUBU][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00DCB842U]